The Tasmanian election hasn’t even been called, but the campaigns sure have begun. The Labor Party’s announcement that if elected, it would implement much needed poker machine reform started the de facto election race without any need for a formal starting gun. Perhaps aware that for many people, their policy is highly unpalatable, the Liberal Government seems content to let their donors/shareholders in the gambling industry prosecute much of the attacks on Labor’s policy.
Instead, the pre-campaign campaign (that’s not a typo) from the Liberals focuses a lot of their messaging around Tasmania’s economic upturn. A radio advertisement I heard recently asked me to compare the record of the Hodgman Liberal Government to that of the previous Labor Government.
I suspect this is a good strategy. In a world where voters thought about things a little more and were less susceptible to manipulation, it shouldn’t be, but that’s not happening anytime soon.
Using only a very facile analysis, Hodgman’s claim looks pretty good. Tasmania’s current economic outlook seems more positive than a decade ago. Tourism is booming, the housing market is flourishing (which admittedly is not without its downsides for first-time buyers, but is usually used as an indicator of positive growth) and the flow of Tasmanian’s leaving the state seeking work on the mainland appears to be less.
But there are some other factors that should be considered here. An interconnected global world is much too complicated to describe Tasmania’s economic fortunes as primarily determined by state government policy. There are some other factors that bear consideration before we give too much credence to Mr Hodgman’s economic boasts.
Hodgman’s Labor predecessors held power as the country grappled with its recovery from the Global Financial Crisis, which impacted trade, investment, tourism and employment all over the world. At the same time, Tasmania suffered disproportionately because the mining boom in Queensland and Western Australia drove a two speed economy that concentrated investment, employment and construction to the mineral-rich states to the detriment of others.
Arguably, since it took power, the Liberal Government has done little to benefit the economy that is significantly different to what its Labor counterpart would have done in its place. It has just benefited from more benign macroeconomic conditions. Arguably David Walsh has done more for the Tasmanian economy than either White or Hodgman, but since he isn't in politics, the benefits of his vision and investment are appropriated by the government of the day.
Disingenuous as it is, I can’t really blame the Hodgman government for trying to shape the narrative in this way. As Bill Clinton’s campaign advisor, James Carville, famously reminded us, governments are almost always judged on economic issues.
However, Hodgman’s invitation to judge his government on its record opens a door he shouldn’t really want us going through. But since he has, let’s consider a couple of examples from the Hodgman government’s record for its short time in office (I'm not even going to mention its pathetic contribution to the poker reform debate).
Admittedly, compared to their appalling federal counterparts, the Tasmanian Liberal Government has appeared relatively progressive and competent. But that is a terribly low bar to cross. When Mr Hodgman asks us to look at his government’s performance and judge them for it, we have to decide if that is actually good enough. I wouldn’t expect a state Labor Government to be scandal-free either, but there is little to suggest they would be worse. Don't be fooled by exaggerated claims about the past- when the election comes, vote for whichever party (Labor, Liberal or Green) offering policies you want to see adopted in this state.