Small House equals smaller ideas
Wedge Wednesday plays up the group-think that stops our politicians from taking brave, accountable actions, writes Sue Hickey
THE worst thing about being a politician is dealing with the politics.
I lose sleep over the frustration of big, bold, brave and accountable ideas by petty party politics. Our Westminster system is an adversarial system of governance, which encourages opposition parties to attack most ideas put forward, sometimes for good reason but more often for mischief or a headline. Equally disturbing is that it limits risk-taking by the government of the day in fear of political backlash, despite evidence to support good decisions.
So ingrained is this process that the actual middle table separating the government from the opposition of the day is exactly two sabre (sword) lengths wide! On Wednesday afternoons, debating time is allocated to the three parties on a rotational basis, to expand on an area of community interest and request a vote on their motion.
The day is referred to as Wedge Wednesday and the atmosphere is electric, because the parties have worked out their strategy to cause each other maximum stress when it comes to the vote. The
Liberals try to wedge Labor into voting with the Greens, the Greens try to wedge the whole of parliament to support their ideas.
My background is in the private sector, where finding solutions and delivering great service were paramount to avoid bankruptcy. My time as an alderman and lord mayor taught me you could put 12 random people in a room and debate an outcome most could accept.
Councils traditionally deal with roads, rates, rubbish and parks to improve the living environment of their residents. Our parliament deals with policy issues that affect people’s life chances. The stakes are so much higher.
Our House of Assembly has 25 elected representatives. I understand the concept of political teams but I do not accept the “group think” that applies to many of the decisions they make. In team meetings, individual beliefs and passions are often quashed by seniority, factions or political point-scoring.
Then, everyone in the team must commit to the decision and cannot speak out or argue the point when it comes to debate, with the very rare exception of a conscience issue. The result is long and boring speeches read into Hansard, naturally supportive of the party view.
In my opinion, the House of Assembly is too small, limiting the ability for ministers to be across many important facets of their portfolios and hold departments to account. The nobbled opposition has to review the same workload but without the same resources, making it seriously difficult to be accepted as an alternative government.
Currently the government backbench consists of just three individuals who are expected to be across all of the onerous committee work. When the same people attend all the same meetings, the possibility of diverse thinking must be diluted.
Small parliaments like ours rarely produce bold visions or brave actions because the conservative views stymie some of our brighter contributors. The desire to hold onto power creates riskaversion and leads to governments not making big decisions, regardless of the persuasion.
A four-year term is too short for long term thinking and it’s almost impossible to garner support for brave ideas from the whole 25 members because they do not work together for fear of losing their party-aligned voter base.
I am embarrassed all three parties can show tri-partisan support for a Tasmanian AFL team but cannot put their best around a table to work out acceptable solutions to our homeless and health problems.
This is the advantage of a board over a parliament. Boards are committed and in fact, legally obliged, to work in the best interests of the organisation and its stakeholders.
Compare the ideas the Tasmanian Parliament has produced over past years to the brilliance and boldness of Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand government.
Over the past two years the minority, multi-party government has a long list of achievements, including free hot lunches for every schoolchild, working alongside the Maori community, creating 92,000 jobs, building 2200 state homes, employing more doctors, nurses and police officers and boasting the lowest unemployment rate in 11 years.
The New Zealand government has addressed homelessness through the world best-practice model Housing First, invested in improved public transport, placed mental health advisers in GP clinics and increased funding for addiction treatment beds. It has extended paid parental leave, passed a Child Poverty Reduction Act and reduced the prison population for the first time in a decade.
Jacinda’s government is a national government and therefore is not comparable on a per capita basis, but its energy and acceptance that change is paramount in
everything from the environment to inclusion of its first people can be compared.
To leave a legacy, we must do more to fulfil our obligations to the people of Tasmania. We need to challenge the accepted norm and step bravely into the future with agreement across parties on long term issues, with each of us held to account for our individual contributions.
To be elected as a politician in the House of Assembly you do not need particular skills or even the popular support of the people! You just need the support of your party and to not be in jail, bankrupt or insane.
It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It’s time to do things differently.
Sue Hickey is state Liberal member for Clark and Speaker of the House of Assembly.