Published: 29 March 2021

My opinion piece, provided in full can been read here:

The signs have been there for some weeks. A government clearing the decks with promised, significant legislation related to key election issues of political donations and pokies nowhere to be seen.

But few expected such an indecent rush to the ballot box. The Premier has led a stable government over the most challenging twelve months in recent history, but now claims he needs certainty as he has lost his majority in the House. In reality he lost his majority some time ago.

Yet the government has continued to be stable during this time, operating well albeit with the defeat of some of its legislation, legislation that would have faced almost certain defeat in the Legislative Council - thus the same outcome.

Legislative Council elections are held the first Saturday in May every year for two or three of the 15 divisions. The Premier had no lack of non-conflicting Saturday's to choose from. He chose a day that gives his candidates in Legislative Council elections a distinct advantage.

The independence of Tasmania's Legislative Council has not only been maintained, but also highly valued for over 160 years. Until 2020 there has never been a majority of party affiliated members and has never been controlled by the Government of the day.

Legislative Council election candidates have a strict spending limit which rises by $500 each year. This year the limit is $18,000. A return must be lodged with the Returning Officer following the election recording all election related expenditure. This means television advertising is beyond the reach of almost all candidates in Legislative Council elections, however party candidates have the benefit of their party advertising for the House of Assembly election. The same applies to mail-outs and newspaper and on-line advertising.

There appears to be no mechanism to attribute cost to the vicarious benefit gained through appearances with the Premier, Opposition Leader or any other sitting member during the campaign period. Additional promotion of, and publicity for, the party candidate is a clear benefit to their campaign and something not afforded to an independent candidate. This is exacerbated when the Premier, Opposition Leader or other sitting member is also contesting an election on the same day.

The decision to call a May 1 election, means Legislative Council elections have been become even more politicised, creating enormous disadvantages for independents whose appeal for the need for sensible and measured review of legislation will be drowned out by the over hyped need for stable government.

The timing may be convenient for the Premier but spare a thought for the long-serving independent member for Windemere, Ivan Dean who is retiring. Mr Dean will not even be afforded the opportunity to make a valedictory speech in Parliament, despite his years of service and decision to leave Parliament at a time of his choosing, as the last sitting week of his term of 16 years will now not proceed.

It is vital the independence of the Legislative Council is maintained to truly and effectively act as a House of review. Particularly as there will be major and contentious legislation coming before Parliament after the election. I have confidence in the electors in Legislative Council elections to appreciate the value of independence. However, to deliberately tilt the playing field against independent candidates is an appalling over-use of power.

Yes, politics is all about opportunity and this is clearly opportunistic. The claim for a need for stability and certainty to justify an early election is skimpy at best. Under the Hare Clarke system we are very unlikely to see anything like the recent Western Australian election.

The media commentary related to the Leader of the Opposition Rebecca White's pregnancy is inappropriate, irrelevant and a distraction. Pregnancy is not incapacity. Pregnancy is a normal life event and the majority of women work throughout pregnancy. Ms White will be no exception. Furthermore Section 16 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act is clear that any person should not be treated differently or unfavourably due to pregnancy. Surely if this could be a challenge to participation in the election campaign, the same would apply to one of the Premier's own team who is due to have a baby in coming weeks.

The data related to the impact on employment and the economy as a result of the cessation of Job Keeper will conveniently not be available until after the election. The timing of this election is short sighted and clearly motivated by self-interest. What's the point of stability if the uniformity and mediocrity of the party system keeps suppressing the overwhelming need for more diversity and new ideas?

The Sunday Examiner, Sunday March 28 2021 

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