Position Vacant: Statesman, Friday, April 2, 2010
I think Labor's decision to give up government is one of the most extraordinary political moves I have ever seen. For a political party, with the opportunity to govern, to prefer opposition is simply remarkable.
Labor is telling its members and voters that a Liberal government is better than a Labor government!
Of course we know the thinking: let the Libs make a pig's breakfast of minority with the Greens, then we'll come storming back as the only stable alternative. That's "old" thinking and its an application of lessons learned from history.
Maybe those hard Labor heads are right. Maybe that's the way it will unfold. But what if it doesn't go that way? What if times and the electorate have moved on? What if the Liberals do make a go of it? And what happens if we are in for a period of prolonged minority parliaments? Just stay in opposition and sulk?
Man, that's a big risk, and just because no one has the balls to pick up the phone and give Nick a ring.
As ludicrous as the above situation is, it appears that David Bartlett will advise the Governor that he believes he does not have the confidence of the House, and to invite Liberal leader Will Hodgman to form government.
Will Mr Underwood accept that advice? Well, he is likely to accept the part about exploring with Mr Hodgman if he can form a government. The question is - and there is no way of knowing for sure - is how much assurance will he want from Mr Hodgman that he can "form stable government for a reasonable period."
I've put the above in quotation marks because those are the words used by a past Governor, Sir Phillip Bennett, when he summarised his thinking of affairs in 1989. Of course, the events in 2010 are not exactly the same as they were in 1989. Back then, the premier, Robin Gray, wanted another election; but the situation with the opposition is similar: Michael Field told the Governor he could form a minority government, but the Governor wanted PROOF. He wanted a written and signed statement from all the Greens.
As far as we know, the current leader of the opposition is not even talking to the Greens, let alone having a discussion about government. My guess is that, faced with a premier who refuses to govern, and an opposition leader with no arrangement, formal or informal, with a majority of members of the parliament, he will probably ask Mr Hodgman to go and have a talk to Mr McKim to see what his intentions are. It is also possible that His Excellency will summons Mr McKim himself to see what he intends.
At this stage it is Mr McKim's plans that become critical. He may say to the Governor that he is only prepared to guarantee support for the Liberals (that is, confidence and supply) if their two parties come to an agreement before hand. After all, why should he give the Governor such an assurance on thin air?
If Peter Underwood follows the precedent set down by Phillip Bennett, he will want a future premier in a minority parliament to provide "a basis for his assurance that he can form minority government." These are the words Sir Phillip used in his letter to Mr Field twenty years ago.
So what if Mr Hodgman can't provide that basis to the satisfaction of the Governor? He then has two choices: to commission Mr Hodgman anyway and see how he goes on the floor of the House; or keep Mr Bartlett on and call another election.