Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Bartlett Backflip: Neither clever nor kind - updated Thursday 17/6/10

(with footage of real Bartlett backflips captured by TPOS cameraman Simon de Little - here ......and back by popular demand -  David Bartlett's Easter)
Premier Bartlett does another backflip on the Forestry
In just two years since inheriting the job of Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett is now routinely described by disillusioned Tasmanians, the local media and his political opponents as "Backflip Bartlett".
Despite the spin driven rhetoric about "honesty, restoring trust, and telling the truth" and the strident protests about not basing policy decisions on polls, David Bartlett's reputation for flip flopping and breaking trust with the public is entrenched.
Whilst breaking promises and backflipping is nothing new for politicians, some have argued that Tasmania’s greenhorn premier has turned the political back flip into an art form.
And it continues to hurt him electorally.

Only a few weeks ago, the quarterly survey of voter intentions conducted by pollster EMRS confirmed the worst. Only 3 months after Will Hodgman & the Greens handed the Premier a post election lifeline, David Bartlett has now led Labor to a position where its support is a staggeringly low 23%. 1% behind the Greens.

Premier Bartlett personal approval rating has plunged to an all time low of 26%.
A drop of 3% since the March election.
Mr Bartlett is now only 3% ahead of Greens Nick Mckim and a whopping 14% behind Will Hodgman who can hardly be regarded as one of the stronger Liberal leaders in recent memory.
Two years of unfulfilled promise and a plethora of serious policy backflips have almost halved the 46% approval rating Mr Bartlett enjoyed after he suddenly replaced on the nose former premier Paul Lennon in May 2008.
A review of Mr Bartlett's burgeoning catalogue of policy backflips may reveal why the Tasmanian Premier is increasingly on the nose with voters.

Power hike backflip - the latest
With two more policy backflips this week Mr Bartlett may be due a visit to the chiropractor.
In another broken election promise the Tasmanian Premier has reneged on a 3 month old election promise that power prices rises would be capped at 5% for householders & small business' for the next two years.
Last week the Premier pleaded with the parliament "Restricting tariff increases to all at five per cent at this stage would undermine our ability to consider those complex relationship issues ”.
The Bartlett government’s new policy will see the cap only applying to concession card holders.
Rather than apologising for the obvious back flip, the state government attempted to spin its way out by attacking the Liberal opposition and bragging about Labor's supposed tradition of protecting the battlers.

Tasmania Tomorrow backflip
Indeed, the power hike back flip was the Premier’s second in a week after the government was forced to abandon a large component of the Tasmania Tomorrow education reforms.
The Tasmania tomorrow education reforms nearly cost the stubborn young Premier his job until the Greens came to his aid, however last weeks decision to overhaul the TT reforms will still cost Tasmanian taxpayers around $6 million.
This was the second reversal of a major education policy under Labor since 2002, following the collapse of the disasterous Essential Learnings (ELS) program.

Pre-election backflips - pork barrelling
Three months earlier in December 2009 Mr Bartlett also gave Tasmania's national parks a $3.9 million-a-year funding boost as part of a series of pre-election policy backflips.
This came only six months after the Premier had ditched the entire Department of Environment, Parks & Wildlife to "cut costs". The axing of the Parks & Wildlife department triggered national outrage with accusations that the Tasmanian Government had cycnically turned its back on Tasmania's iconic wilderness and heritage assets.
At around the same time Mr Bartlett also admitted to Tasmanians that he had made a major policy backflip on land tax after his government came under sustained pressure from big business. Then there was the Bartlett government decision to backflip & ease its freeze on public service jobs.
And of course there was the Bartlett governments backflip on Water & Sewerage bills which had been cited as one of the flagship reforms of the Bartlett government.

Election Backflip - the judas backflip
Only 2 months ago, in the wake of the state election, Tasmanians witnessed what was perhaps Mr Bartlett’s most spectacular back flip.
In the lead-up to the March 20 election Mr Bartlett vowed that Labor would settle for life in opposition rather than be part of a minority government with the Greens. The Premier also stated repeatedly that if voters delivered a 10-10-5 deadlock and the Liberal opposition received the most votes, he would advise the Governor to allow Liberal leader Will Hodgman first divs in forming a government on the floor of the house.
Mr Bartlett declared ..."My commitment to the Tasmanian people (that the political party with the most votes at last month's election wins) is an honest one. "I will stick to my promise and on Wednesday after the declaration of the polls I will visit the Governor and advise him that I cannot honestly say I could expect to enjoy the confidence of the House if [Labor] was asked to form the next government."

Oh dear.

Richo & the Mckim back flip.
It was around the time of the election that Premier Bartlett launched a vicious public attack on former federal labor minister Graham Richardson.
Richardson had appeared on the ABC Q&A programme immediately after the March 20 Tasmanian state election. During the programme Richardson made what turned out to be a prophetic suggestion, urging David Bartlett to negotiate with the Greens to retain government
Richardson said.......”Well, I thought the comments from Bartlett that basically under no circumstances would he deal with the Greens was pretty silly. I hope he rethinks it. I hope he gets together with some of his colleagues and has a couple of quiet drinks one day and works out that that’s pretty dumb and moves forward. If anyone can work with the Greens, it will be Labor.”
The response from David Bartlett was typically over the top and ego-driven
Bartlett flew off the handle saying...."Graham Richardson would crawl over his grandmother to get to power; I am not that man; I do not believe in the philosophy of 'whatever it takes'," Bartlett empathically said. "My commitment to the Tasmanian people (that the political party with the most votes at last month's election wins) is an honest one. I will stick to my promise and on Wednesday after the declaration of the polls, I will visit the Governor and advise him that I cannot honestly say I could expect to enjoy the confidence of the House if [Labor] was asked to form the next government."

What did Mr Bartlett do next?

He did the deal with the Greens that Richardson had advised. The Greens immediately declared their support for Bartlett Labor and thus David Bartlett held on to power.
Mr Bartlett then took another giant leap away from his pre-election position, surprising political pundits by making Green’s leader Nick Mckim and MHA Cassy’ O’Connor members of cabinet.
Richo must have laughed to himself at the naivety of his young Tasmanian counterpart.
Observers of the “Richo back flip” are well justified in asking Premier Bartlett if he might well be that "whatever it takes" man. That Judas.
That Graham Richardson who Bartlett alleged would crawl over his grandmother to get to power. Indeed, many observers of Tasmanian politics have identified the Bartlett tendency to react badly to advice and criticism as an Achilles heel.

The Richo back flip was classic Bartlett. Over react.... off....back flip.
The same pattern of behaviour can be seen in Bartlett’s relationship with former political foe Greens leader Nick Mckim. Right up until the post election deal with the Greens Bartlett had maintained a contemptuous posture towards Greens leader Nick McKim. Slick, untrustworthy and a "wolf in sheep's clothes" were some of the more benign descriptors used by Bartlett to denigrate McKim. The Premier's intense dislike for his green political opponent was particularly palpable on the parliament floor.
However as soon as the Greens provided a way for Mr Bartlett to hold on to power, suddenly we were witnessing the Bartlett/McKim mutual admiration society with the leader’s texting each other and going on long bike rides together.

Top Cop Backflip
Then there was the backflip that almost triggered a constitutional crisis.
In 2008 Premier Bartlett infamously backflipped on his appointment of Richard McCreadie to acting Police Commissioner. Retired police commissioner Richard McCreadie was to temporarily return to the role while current commisioner Jack Johnston fought charges alleging he disclosed official secrets to state politicians. Premier Bartlett told the Tasmanian parliament he could not appoint (Richard McCreadie) as temporary police commissioner as he had recieved advice there was a "legal impediment".
As a result of this highly controversial saga the Premier became embroiled in a very public stoush with the Director of Public Prosecutions which could have resulted in the downfall of the Government or the DPP

Pulp Mill backflip - The Mother of all backflips.
David Bartlett first demonstrated his political naivety immediately upon assuming office in May 2008 from the deeply unpopular and controversial Paul Lennon.
Before resigning in May 2008, the pro-logging premier Lennon self-destructed in one of the most scandal ridden periods in the state’s history. The fall of Paul Lennon could be linked to a number of issues, but most Tasmanians would concede that it was Lennon’s personal obsession with the Gunns pulp mill that killed his political career.
After Lennon resigned, with an approval rating of 17 per cent, the new Premier David Bartlett immediately set about winning over a jaded public by distancing himself from the former premier, and from Gunns.
At his first media conference as Premier, Bartlett declared... "I accept that recent events in the Tasmanian political scene have led to a degradation of trust in our democracy and anything we can do to reconnect with the Tasmanian people and continue to build their trust will be absolutely vital."
David Bartlett had seen the risks of tying ones political fortunes too closely to Gunns Ltd and seemed determined not to sacrifice himself for Tasmania’s most powerful company.
The new Premier declared "I believe that this Parliament and, therefore the Government have done pretty much all we can [for Gunns pulp mill] and some would say too much … we have drawn a line in the sand regarding any future government involvement in the pulp mill project."
Mr Bartlett also declared he was open to the protection of more forests.

Through a series of rosy public statements, including twice personally telling Tamar Valley residents he didn’t think the project "would get finance or go ahead,", Mr Bartlett led Tasmanians to believe that his Government would resolve the pulp mill debate and give Tasmanians closure on the mill issue by Christmas 2008.
To the relief of the Tasmanian people, the new Premier set a time frame for the pulp mill "to live or die by" declaring that from 30 November 2008, government permits and involvement in the project would end unless Gunns had achieved real finance and real progress on construction".
In declaring "the Tasmanian people have a right to say enough is enough" David Bartlett appeared to have finally recognised the rights of other stakeholders.
Then in 2009, Tasmanians watched in horror as Premier Bartlett performed one of the most spectacular political back flips since John Howard’s GST.
David Bartlett did not deliver on his promise that by 30 November 2008 his Government would withdraw permits and involvement in the project unless Gunns had settled questions of finance. The Premier also quickly backed away from any suggestion of protecting more forests after being pulled into line by Tasmania’s politically powerful forest barons
Eighteen months on, with Gunns yet to meet Bartlett’s conditions, the "line in the sand" has been well and truly washed away.
Or as Richard Flanagan argued: " He (Bartlett) didn't draw just one line in the sand, he ploughed up the entire beach."
To make matters worse, after claiming it had been informed of a potential legal problem with expiring State Pulp Mill permits, the Bartlett Government quickly moved to draft the ‘Pulp Mill Clarification Bill’ — yes, another special law for Gunns which extended the pulp mill permit until late 2011.
When questioned about this, Energy and Resources Minister David Llewellyn said "The pulp mill is the biggest thing for Tasmania; it is essential for the Tasmanian economy."
Yet Llewellyn’s statement directly contradicted state Treasurer Michael Aird who recently talked down the planned pulp mill’s importance to Tasmania’s economy, saying that if the pulp mill did not go ahead, it "would have only a marginal impact on the government’s finances".
Despite the best efforts of Bartlett’s bloated and expensive army of spin doctors, Tasmanians have woken up to the double game underway.

No more Government support for Gunns Pulp Mill Backflip. Aird Backflips too.
In late 2009 it was revealed that the Premier had secretly re-focused his Government as willing lobbyists for the pulp mill via a secret letter written to the (now ex) Gunns boss, John Gay, in May 2008.
A few weeks after the Premier's secret backflip Gunns dropped the treasurer in it when they put out a press release thanking Treasurer Michael Aird for…
Agreeing to lobby its prospective pulp mill partner…Gunns spokesman Matt Horan said last night while the Tasmanian Government had always been clear about its backing for the giant pulp mill, ‘every little bit’ of open support helps. Mr Aird left yesterday for a week-long, $50,000 trip to Europe, during which he will meet the unnamed companies Gunns hopes can be convinced to invest in its controversial pulp mill”.
Treasurer Aird had only recently vowed that "the State Government would not interfere on behalf of Gunns".
In a startling turnaround, the Treasurer was forced to admit to a stunned Tasmanian public that he was travelling to Europe to help Gunns secure project finance. Even after intense scrutiny from political opponents and media, Aird withheld the details of his taxpayer-funded trip.
It later came to light that Aird and John Gay travelled together in Scandinavia, visiting various European pulp mills and attending several meetings to attempt to finalise finance for the mill project.
Tasmanians are almost — but not quite — desensitised to being conned by their political leaders over the Gunns pulp mill.
Respected Tasmanian political scientist Richard Herr, who is normally moderate in his public utterances, has been scathing about the Tasmanian Government’s treatment of the public on the mill issue, saying: "Parliament took the stance ‘if we shove the legislation through quickly no-one will notice’ … but the people did notice and will not forget."

Reconnecting with Tasmanians has been a consistent theme in the Bartlett rhetoric.

Mr.Bartlett promised to heal community divisions when he took on the job of premier but his constant back flips have only served to exacerbate what he referred to as "the degradation of trust in democracy".
Indeed, after a disasterous opinion poll in November 2009 Mr Bartlett declared,... "We have not demonstrated to them that we care and we have not demonstrated to the Tasmanian community that we are listening and we need to do more of both,"
However residents & businesses in the Tamar Valley and Tasmanians in general remain irreconcilably disconnected to the Gunns Pulp Mill project and increasingly so to the Tasmanian Government largely because, like his predecessor, David Bartlett has played a double game by talking the talk but failing to walk the walk.

In this sense Premier Bartlett is no different than most politicians for politicians are people of words.
Politicians like Mr Bartlett want us to judge them on their words, their intentions and their finest achievements.
Voters, however are looking for action, actions that match the promises politicans make.
Politicians who are able to bridge the gulf between word and deed are inevitably the ones who gain the respect and the nod from voters.

So where does this leave Premier David Bartlett? Mr 26%. Perhaps like the proposed Gunns Tamar Valley pulp mill, facing a seemingly impossible task in winning back the trust of the Tasmanian people.

Rick Pilkington

1 comment:

  1. David's backflips- caught on film