Small House equals smaller ideas

Wedge Wed­nes­day plays up the group-think that stops our politi­cians from tak­ing brave, ac­count­able ac­tions, writes Sue Hickey

Mercury (Hobart) - - TALKING POINT -

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.

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