LIFE wasn’t meant to be easy, former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser famously quipped long ago
Our Liberal Premier, Will Hodgman, would have to agree. The old Liberal warhorse’s words are as relevant in Tasmania today as they were in Canberra way back in 1971.
The past few weeks haven’t been easy for the Liberals. The wheels aren’t exactly falling off Will Hodgman’s machine, but they are wobbling.
With the election just over the horizon, pressure is mounting and challenges are coming at the Premier from all directions.
Charges of nepotism within his department, trusted aides resigning amid suggestions of toxic tension, hurtful innuendo that he somehow gave his best man a leg-up on to the Supreme Court bench, burying a white-hot report into the health system, key legislation falling over in the Upper House — such as the TasWater takeover, reopening protected forests for logging, and mandatory sentencing.
Can Will find the spanner to tighten those wheels up and get that machine back on track? Is he in total control, or would he just have us believe everything is hunky-dory and we’re on a crane-led recovery?
With the election due early next year, voters are starting to hunt for positive signals and firm policy from the parties. Parliament has finished, and it is game on!
Suddenly there are more missiles flying around the corridors of power in Hobart than out of North Korea.
The Libs are on the back foot, ducking and weaving — and behind the barrage taking pot shots are Labor leader Rebecca White and Greens leader Cassy O’Connor.
The Government’s final riposte before Parliament rose was to trumpet its economic performance — primarily getting the Budget back under control and wiping deficits.
There’s little doubt Premier Will Hodgman is a very decent sort of a guy who, even after nearly four years in the job, still looks uncomfortable at times.
Friends say he’s modest, almost to the point of shyness, scrupulously honest, a fun person to have a beer with, a great team player, and a true family man.
Insiders say that in the office Will is a dynamo, a can-do bloke, calling the shots and inspiring the team.
There certainly seems to be a disconnect between Will Hodgman behind the scenes and Will Hodgman the Premier we see before the cameras.
Publicly he often appears somewhat hobbled and awkward — constrained by mind- ers to stay on message, remain a small target and always take the line of least resistance.
To the outside world — and with an election just months away — this state is still waiting for inspiration from what was a fresh team of young guns that swept into power in 2014.
Where is the wow factor from Will and the team? How long do we have to wait for someone to pull a rabbit from the hat to inspire an island state that has long celebrated innovation and being different? Where is someone to take a creative and less-constrained look at things, thinking big and bold?
The promise of great things from this State Government is dissipating. Time is fast running out, and unless the Liberals have a war-chest of fabulous ideas they are going to throw at the electorate very quickly, this election campaign could be excruciating.
The Government has always struggled to rise above the ordinary and is easily consumed with old issues and problems of its own making.
The Opposition, on the other hand, has a fresh new leader and seems invigorated.
It may not have every policy box ticked, but the electorate won’t care too much just yet.
Ministers have surrounded themselves with a wall of amateurish advisers and spin-doctors to keep at bay the hard and awkward questions.
These people have dumbed down ministerial performan- ces to extraordinarily stupid levels. There is a paranoia someone might step off-message — and the tragedy has been that ministers have acquiesced to this narrow-minded approach.
If these minders are so smart, how could something as simple as a Premier shouting beers in a bar to chat to voters turn into a gift for the Opposition?
“They couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery,” one wise political observer noted.
Instead of the Tasmanian Hotel Association footing the bill for the Premier and both looking silly, why didn’t Hodgman slap a few snappers on the bar ($20 notes) and pay from his own pocket, maybe claim it on expenses down the track?
Tasmania’s key economic performance indicators should provide a carpet ride to an election victory for the Liberal Government.
Employment is strong, the Government says it has the Budget back under control and deficits are wiped out, education reforms (Year 10 extensions to Year 12) are happening.
Tourism has wind under its wings like never before (with grateful thanks again to David Walsh), employment in the construction and hospitality sector has grown, and there have been some small, innovative private projects taking shape.
But the struggling health system and delivery of adequate health services and the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment seem a never-ending nightmare. This just goes on and on — and the Opposition capitalises on this huge and cumbersome project it tried hard to stuff up when in government.
Let’s have a look at the Premier’s emphasis on the cranes spread across Hobart’s skyline, working on $1.035 billion worth of projects.
There is an extremely healthy construction sector at the moment, but we can’t pretend this is all organic private investment — most of those cranes are working on projects publicly funded.
Myer Crowne Plaza crane ($100 million) represents private investment underwritten by some Government loans, and Parliament Square ($150 million) has some private money. But UTAS Creative Arts ($96 million) and two cranes at the Royal Hobart Hospital ($689 million) are publicly funded projects.
Another Liberal Party elder, former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, recently issued a withering assessment of the state of politics in Australia, saying leaders were “visionless”.
He called for state leaders and policymakers to show leadership to an electorate that had been left “floundering”, and he warned the electorate often chose not to reward good governments.
No sitting state government would be able to retain power after upcoming elections unless it changed its strategy dramatically, or was prepared to enter deals with minor parties.
“The greatest absence from political life at the moment is clear direction and vision,” Mr Kennett said.
“You’ve got governments battling a confluence of issues that they can’t rise above, and the public have had a gutful.”
e greatest absence from political life at the moment is clear direction and vision. FORMER VICTORIAN PREMIER JEFF KENNETT