Is the last bastion of Conservative politics about to go the way of the Tasmanian tiger?

Australians will be keeping an eye on Tasmania as the ripples from its “soap opera” election flow to the mainland.

Mar 20, 2024, updated Mar 20, 2024
Tasmanian Opposition Leader Rebecca White at Parliament House in Hobart, and (right) Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff. (AAP Image/Rob Blakers)

Tasmanian Opposition Leader Rebecca White at Parliament House in Hobart, and (right) Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff. (AAP Image/Rob Blakers)

Tasmania is the only Liberal administration in Australia, a blue splash on an otherwise red electoral map of Labor state and federal governments.

Apple Isle residents go to the polls on Saturday after Liberal premier Jeremy Rockliff called an early election following a term marred by high-profile defections.

Many national issues including rising housing and living costs are felt acutely across the Bass Strait.

Geographic isolation heaped extra pressure on the state economy, Liberal senator Jonathon Duniam said.

“When things hurt on the mainland, they hurt doubly hard in Tasmania,” he told AAP.

The state’s vote is in some ways a distillation of broader sentiment ahead of a federal election due in 2025.

Forming a majority government could prove an insurmountable task for both of the major parties.

Though the Liberals have governed Tasmania for the last decade, its most recent term has been plagued by bullying allegations and a string of high-profile resignations.

Labor may fare no better.

The party has been lost in the political wilderness since its landslide loss to the Liberals in 2014.

It has failed to make significant inroads at the two elections since.

A redistribution of lower house seats is likely to favour independents, creating a larger cross bench more akin to the composition of federal parliament.

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie is convinced Tasmanians are increasingly disillusioned with the major parties.

“Voters are sick of their grubby tactics around election times, they’re sick of them making promises that aren’t delivered, they want to see these major parties held accountable,” she said.

Senator Lambie, who is fielding candidates in the state election, said people were looking for representatives from outside the political establishment.

“These guys have actually lived life – they’ve been out there, they’ve done it tough, they’ve been without money, they’ve had families and struggled to put bread and milk on the table at times,” she said.

“Being able to contribute with that behind you, puts you in a much better position.”

A minority government at the federal or state level carried risk, Senator Duniam said, leading to slowed economic growth, reduced opportunities and diminished investor confidence.

But independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie said power-sharing in situations were common overseas and could allow for more voices, more diversity and better outcomes.

During the Julia Gillard-Kevin Rudd minority government years, Mr Wilkie played a prominent role as one of four crossbench kingmakers.

They were included in discussions and their concerns were addressed.

As a result, the 2010 to 2013 government was one of the most productive in Australian history, with one of the highest proportions of legislation passing both houses.

“It was a remarkably productive and reformist government,” Mr Wilkie said.

In contrast, the state government had grown increasingly dysfunctional, the independent said.

“To call Tasmanian politics a soap opera would be unfair to soap operas.”

Voting in a minority Tasmanian government with a strong crossbench would reflect the changing nature of politics in Australia, Mr Wilkie said.

Senator Duniam isn’t convinced independents can win Australian hearts.

All politics is local and candidates must prove they connect with the community and understand their concerns, he said.

While there could be somewhat of a protest vote, Senator Duniam believes independents don’t always have the profile needed to win a seat.

He admits to being “more optimistic than most”.

Both major parties’ first preference would be to form a majority government.

But with the odds stacked against them, Labor MP Brian Mitchell and Senator Duniam confirmed their parties would work with Tasmania’s government regardless of the outcome.

“At the end of the day, it’s up to the people of Tasmania,” Mr Mitchell said.

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