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TALKING POINT: STILL WAITING FOR PREMIER TO GRAB JOB BY THE SCRUFF OF THE NECK - Opinion Piece, Hobart Mercury, 27 December 2017

As an interested observer, it seems to me that the State Liberal Government’s latest cabinet reshuffle has underscored significant cultural and practical problems for Will Hodgman and his “team” as they lurch towards the end of this parliamentary term.

Will Hodgman had political capital to spend off the back of his 2014 election win, and the Tasmanian public was willing to see what he and his Liberals were made of.

To say that the ensuing four years have been a disappointment is like suggesting Malcolm Turnbull’s had a bit of a bad run in Canberra.

Even the Liberals’ most loyal supporters don’t bother to argue that the Hodgman Government has used its political capital to benefit the state.

Particularly when it comes to infrastructure investment or economic and social reforms.

Instead we have seen a government fixated on its political opponents and wasting time stoking ideological fires year after year.

We’ve heard endless populist rhetoric about being tough on crime, short-sighted attempts to inflame the forest wars and a more crash than crash-through approach to critical issues like water and sewerage investment.

We’ve seen a government that alienates the people that don’t explicitly agree with it, deriding them and shutting them out.

Public sector unions have been demonised for doing their job and standing up for their members.

Respected local government representatives have been attacked personally for daring to disagree with Liberal policy on the basis of ‘evidence’ — which is such an unnecessary policy foundation for the modern Liberal Party.

The Hodgman Government has abandoned those political moderates who took a chance on a Liberal government, many for the first time in their voting lives.

Its approach has created a corrosive “us versus them” culture serving only to hold Tasmania back.

It’s also responsible for the enormous divide now existing between the political arm of the Liberal Government and the public service.

Talking to my constituents leaves me with the almost unanimous impression that any trust that existed in the beginning was quickly eroded by the Government’s shattered promise not to cut jobs.

However, I’m not convinced these cultural problems are confined to the Liberals’ relationship with its workforce. Closer to home, there are tell-tale signs of a government with a problem when it comes to managing and looking after people.

The Premier’s office has experienced an enormous amount of churn over the past 3½ years. I understand more than 20 senior staff have handed in their letters of resignation, some after periods of mere weeks. The experienced operators who have been there from the start are scarce and tired.

And I am seriously questioning the strength of the government at the highest level.

Senior ministers Paul Harriss and Matthew Groom quit, quite out of the blue. Indeed, Mr Groom completely blindsided his Premier with his departure.

When a minister with an enormous workload announces he’s quitting without telling his premier, it’s safe to conclude the fabric of the government is severely frayed.

I would strongly argue that cohesive governments do not find themselves in that position.

A cohesive government would work itself out with minimal political and policy disruption.

Instead we’ve seen the opposite. Instead, all we’ve got left is a shell of a cabinet where the Premier, his deputy and the Treasurer struggle with unsustainably large workloads.

Due to necessity, political ideologue Guy Barnett, whom the Premier did not deem fit to serve in his first two cabinets, is now overseeing the critical energy portfolio, at a time when the Turnbull Government is ruining national energy infrastructure.

Jacquie Petrusma clings onto the Human Services portfolio despite a calamitous performance that in any other government would have had it confiscated from her more than a year ago.

And the fact the Premier appointed himself Attorney-General, instead of experienced lawyer Elise Archer, highlights the debilitating trust issues so well known in the parliament corridors since the Liberals were in opposition.

The Hodgman Government, which painted itself on coming to power as largely “moderate”, has been deposed by a political cabal under the punishing thumb of the conservative arm of the Liberal Party.

And, despite huge promises to address the “gender imbalance”, Will Hodgman has failed dismally to modernise his party.

It’s a shocking fact that the Tasmanian Liberal Party has not elected a woman to the federal Parliament since 1996.

At no time in my career have I looked across the Senate Chamber at a female Tasmanian Liberal representative. I have no hope of doing so.

Their record at a state level? There have been 11 upper house elections since the Liberals won power in 2014. They have not endorsed a single female candidate in any of those elections. Not. One.

Does anyone remember Will Hodgman throwing down the gauntlet to Liberal powerbroker Eric Abetz in 2010, heroically pledging to move the party to the middle?

He said, “I’m grabbing this by the scruff of the neck. I’m quite prepared to stake my leadership on it.”

Whatever happened to that guy?

 Lisa Singh

http://www.lisasingh.com.au/

is a Labor Senator for Tasmania. This opinion piece was first published in the Hobart Mercury on Wednesday, 27 December 2017.