Shortcuts / 21 March 2024

Tasmania’s Surprise Election

Tasmania’s surprise election is being held this Saturday, 23 March. For Liberal Premier Jeremy Rockliff the snap election is a roll of the dice, an attempt to free himself from the demands of 2 powerful ex-Liberal members of Tasmania’s parliament. All of which began with an argument over an AFL stadium.

First up, wasn’t Tasmania’s election meant to be further away?
The state was due for an election in 2025, so having an election this year was quite a surprise. But Tasmania has been having some political trouble recently…

Ooh, what’s been happening?
Last year, 2 Liberal members of the Tassie parliament quit the party, which threw the government into minority rule. To tell that story, let’s wind back a bit…

Where do we start?
It’s worth noting that Tasmania has had a Liberal government since 2014, when the party had its best-ever electoral result and beat a Labor government that had been in power for 16 years. We’re now just shy of 10 years of Liberal rule in Tasmania, and things had been going smoothly for the party. The current premier, Jeremy Rockliff, was sworn into the role in April 2022.

… Okay, but where does the drama come in?
One thing that Rockliff inherited when he became premier was a plan to get Tasmania its very own AFL team – because Tasmanians love AFL, but so far they haven’t had a team from the state in the main AFL league. So the previous premier of Tasmania, Peter Gutwein, had started a process to allow Tasmania to finally be included in the AFL. And a deal was struck…

What was this deal?
The deal between the AFL and Tasmania was that the state could have a team in the league if they built a new football stadium. This deal continued even when Peter Gutwein stepped down and Jeremy Rockliff became the new premier of Tassie.

So Rockliff has to build a stadium?
Yep, and it’s going to cost around $715 million dollars. Rockliff said Tassie’s government would pay for around half of that, and in April 2023, Anthony Albanese announced that the federal government would chip in $240 million. The AFL also agreed to put in $15 million, and the remaining $85 million would come from private land deals, which meant the stadium was going ahead.

… And did the AFL hold up its end of the deal?
Sure enough, the very next month, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan and Jeremy Rockliff held a joint press conference to announce that Tasmania would be getting its own AFL team. It was a big moment of celebration for Tassie and the AFL world.

Sounds like a happy outcome, no?
This is where the story takes a turn for Rockliff, because the stadium deal caused backlash inside and outside of his party. Community members, as well as Labor and the Greens, protested the stadium spending and said the money should have gone towards the state’s healthcare sector and to help address the housing and homelessness crisis. But there were also questions coming from within the Liberal party…

Who? What questions?
Those questions mainly came from 2 Tasmanian Liberal members of parliament, Lara Alexander and John Tucker. They said that they weren’t necessarily opposed to the stadium, but they wanted more transparency about the decision to spend so much. And it turned out they were really unhappy, because after a fortnight both of them quit the party.

Dramatic! What happened next?
Well, it raised questions about the future of Jeremy Rockliff’s government… especially because it meant that the Liberals now had less than half of all the seats in parliament. But he managed to get an agreement from Tucker and Alexander that they would support the government to pass the basic bills needed to keep it functioning – so he avoided a government collapse.

Sounds tenuous…
It was, which is why less than a year later Rockliff announced this surprise election. According to him, Tucker and Alexander were holding the government “to ransom” and demanding too much in exchange for their votes.

With all this drama, what’s happening with the AFL team?
In a fun bit of scheduling, the AFL team was officially launched on Monday. They revealed the green guernsey and the team’s name, the Tasmanian Devils. The twist about the launch event was that Labor’s leader, Rebecca White, was there… but Jeremy Rockliff was not.

That feels surprising…
The nuance here is that Labor has always been supportive ofTasmania having an AFL team, but opposed the stadium. White said she was “very excited” about the new team. As for Rockliff, he wanted to avoid mixing politics with the AFL, which is why he asked his Liberal colleagues to stay away from the team launch.

What a headspin…
It sure is… And if Labor gets elected, they plan to renegotiate the deal with the AFL so that Tassie can have the team without the stadium. But the AFL says it’s not open to renegotiating the deal, so we’ll have to see what happens…

Could Labor win?
Polls put the Liberals ahead, but there’s actually a strong chance that neither Labor or the Liberals will win a majority of seats. In that case, it’ll be up to one party to negotiate a coalition with the Greens, independent politicians, and the Jacqui Lambie Network. This year a majority (or a coalition) will require 18 seats, because the number of representatives in Tassie’s parliament is increasing from 25 to 35 seats. Got all that?

There seems to be a lot going on with Tassie’s politics…
There sure is, and you’d better believe that our federal politicians are watching what happens in Tassie, to see which issues Australians care about most and how they’re feeling about the major parties. Expect a lot of eyes on the vote on Saturday…

Squiz recommends:

Watching: The ABC has a video on the leaders of Tasmania’s Liberal, Labor, and Greens parties.

Reading: A short news article on Kenny the Potato, a statue which was erected decades ago by the current premier, Jeremy Rockliff. Kenny fell over last year but was recently re-erected – here are the pics.

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