REX GARD­NER

Sunday Tasmanian - - News -

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.”

Th‘

e great­est ab­sence from po­lit­i­cal life at the mo­ment is clear di­rec­tion and vi­sion. FOR­MER VIC­TO­RIAN PREMIER JEFF KENNETT

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