.........Greens need more humility - SUE NEALES from The Mercury - May 08, 2010 08:21am
Instead of humility in victory, arrogance reigned too often for the Greens this week.
THE first two days of the new-look Tasmanian Parliament this week were an unusually uncomfortable, scrappy and vicious affair.
The most charitable view would be that with 11 new MPs sitting in the 25-member House of Assembly for the first time since the March state election, it was always going to be a vastly different parliament.
Add to that the new dynamics of a chastened but gleefully returned minority Labor government back in power by the skin of its teeth, to the dismay of an embittered but enlarged Liberal Opposition, and the stage was set for a showdown.
But the unknown in the pack was always going to be how the five members of the Tasmanian Greens would play their newly dealt "power-sharing" hand.
With Greens leader Nick McKim and fellow Greens MP Cassy O'Connor now sitting at Labor's power Cabinet table -- and Labor reliant on this pact with a "wolf in sheep's clothing" to remain in power -- it was clear the parliamentary role adopted by the balance-of-power Greens would be the catalyst to the success of the "new paradigm" of governance in Tasmania.
Unfortunately, if the first parliamentary week was anything to judge by, the Greens have not yet found the right tenor for their party to adopt on the floor of the House.
Instead of humility in victory, arrogance reigned too often, as well as the sense the two Greens were trying to be "more Labor than Labor".
It was not helped by confusion, especially in Labor ranks, about exactly what responsibilities the new Greens ministers have, and how closely or not that will bind the Greens to government policies.
Mr McKim and his colleagues have spent much time talking about the "unique dynamics" and unrivalled opportunities for Tasmania in the new Labor-Greens model of government sealed two weeks ago.
It saw Mr McKim made Human Services, Corrections, Climate Change, Alternative Energy and Community Development Minister in a nine-member Labor Cabinet, with Ms O'Connor also handed a seat at the table of executive government as Cabinet Secretary.
The cosy arrangement -- particularly awkward and compromising given Ms O'Connor is also Mr McKim's partner -- essentially delivers two ministerial positions to the Greens while allowing Premier Bartlett to portray it as just one Greens minister.
But while Ms O'Connor cannot officially call herself a fully fledged minister, she has almost all the power and perks -- the chauffeur-driven limousine, the extra staff, the big office and a boosted salary.
Ms O'Connor has also made it plain she believes she has full responsibility and authority, both within the bureaucracy of executive government and on the floor of Parliament.
With the two senior Greens members now an integral part of the new Labor Government -- or "inside the tent pissing out", as some Labor MPs have privately explained the Labor-Greens deal -- the Greens as the third political party in the Tasmanian Parliament were always going to have to find a new role post-election.
No longer could they possibly hope to occupy the high moral ground in the House, adopting the time-honoured role of "keeping the bastards [on both sides] honest".
Nor could the Greens continue to act as the chief political opponents to Labor -- a task they have executed in the past four years to the detriment of two former deputy premiers in Bryan Green and Steve Kons and, ultimately, premier Paul Lennon.
The Greens describe their new arrangement with Labor in different ways. Tim Morris cutely says his colleagues are just helping out, "assisting" Labor with its ministerial workload.
Ms O'Connor and Mr McKim explain it as a model, not a coalition, all about showing maturity, guaranteeing government stability and offering new ways and "paradigm shifts" of thinking in how to run and lead a state like Tasmania.
Manifestly obvious, though, at the end of this first parliamentary week were the strategic benefits to the returned Bartlett Government of the new Labor-Greens era of co-operation on the floor of Parliament.
No longer was the articulate Mr McKim -- easily the best and most damaging performer in Parliament -- firing all barrels in their direction. Instead his sights and cutting barbs were turned on the Liberal Opposition benches and hapless leader Will Hodgman.
It left Mr Bartlett to sit relatively quietly, preserving his ammunition for strategic moments and appearing almost statesman-like.
Presumably that is Labor's tactic, to use the debating skills and repartee of Mr McKim and the lashing tongue of Ms O'Connor to full effect on the Liberals while allowing the Premier to stay out of the rough and tumble of the parliamentary bearpit.
The dilemma for the Greens -- particularly for the three Greens MPs who are not Cabinet ministers -- is that it remains patently unclear exactly what their new role is now their party has joined hands at the top with Labor.
Are Tim Morris, Kim Booth and newcomer Paul O'Halloran compliant government backbenchers or genuine opposition members?
And how can they realistically be the latter -- which Mr Booth certainly wants to remain -- when their leader and colleague are now Labor government ministers?
The three are not aligned to Labor. They have not bound their souls to Team Bartlett's with the signing of a ministerial deal already branded by Liberal hard-hitter Peter Gutwein as akin to "30 pieces of silver".
It must be galling for Kim Booth and Tim Morris in particular to sit there and not say a word while Labor ministers such as Bryan Green repeat government platitudes and positions that only six months ago the same Greens were branding as "corrupt , disgraceful, scandalous and shameful".
This noticeable tension in the House finally erupted when Mr Booth could contain himself no longer as Mr Green, resurrected as Labor's Resources Minister, was back singing the virtues of the responsible forestry industry.
"Wrong," yelled Mr Booth from the Greens' back row.
"What do you call that, friendly fire?" asked the Liberals of Premier Bartlett, to much laughter.
But the point was well made. How do these three Greens -- whom Mr Gutwein described as ultimately "holding the fate of this Government and the fate of honesty and integrity in this Parliament" in their hands -- react and respond in Parliament and scrutinise a government of which they are now part?
This conundrum is heightened by Mr McKim's already expressed expectation that he will request Messrs Booth, Morris and O'Halloran to ask pre-arranged soft questions -- Dorothy Dixers -- of himself and Ms O'Connor.
The only reason for such questions -- usually the domain of government junior MPs -- is to allow ministers to highlight positive developments or policy initiatives in their own portfolios.
It is not a role that one would expect to sit well with the plain-speaking Mr Booth, who has already made his displeasure public at the Greens getting into bed with the Labor government he has spent eight years unveiling as corrupt.
But the main problem for the Greens this week was not about their newfound Labor friendship, or even the apparent readiness of Mr McKim and Ms O'Connor to become Labor's acquiescent attack dogs.
More it was about the misjudgment shown by the flavour and tone of their remarks, asides and speeches, that tended too often towards self-satisfaction and smugness at their own new power status and gloating vitriol towards the vanquished Liberals.
It is often said the mark of a true sportsman is that they are equally gracious in both victory and defeat.
As Premier Bartlett has learnt himself the hard way, especially in his first two years as a new education minister, being too cocky, clever or snide does not translate well in the theatre of Parliament.
Healthy egos can quickly look like arrogance on the floor of the House. Confidence and political excitement at new challenges ahead can just as easily appear as unattractive triumphalism.
The world knows the Tasmanian Greens have achieved the extraordinary and improbable double of holding the balance of power in an Australian Lower House and becoming the first third-party ministers in a Labor Cabinet.
It is a landmark result that puts real power into the hands of Mr McKim and Ms O'Connor.
But in the face of such a stunning victory, it is worth remembering that humility -- nakedly absent from Mr McKim and Ms O'Connor this week -- will always win over more sceptical voters than pride.