Image for Bartlett Launches Ploy to Shunt Greens off Debating Stage

DAVID BARTLETT’s announcement HERE that he had organised for Sky News to host a nationally televised debate on March 14 between himself and Will Hodgman—but not the Greens leader Nick McKim—is a striking illustration of his how little weight he gives to his own pronouncements on the need to restore trust in Tasmania’s democracy. Bartlett’s strategy is to enlist a national news outlet and some yet-to-be-announced Tasmanian journalists in doing Labor’s bidding in trying to marginalise the Greens. Bartlett’s ‘I won’t debate the Greens’ tactic is a carbon copy of Paul Lennon’s 2006 election campaign strategy.

In his January 31 speech, titled “Building a Strong Tasmania”, before assembled Labor candidates, Bartlett proclaimed that the ALP stood for “a fair go” and claimed that he was committed to listening “to the concerns of Tasmanians right around the State.” After reflecting that many people had lost trust in Tasmania’s government when he became Premier he stated that “it is an ongoing commitment to build institutions of governance that the Tasmanian people can have confidence in.”

Just over a week after re-pledging himself to work to restore trust in democracy, Bartlett unilaterally announced a debate which Will Hodgman apparently didn’t know about until it was announced. Bartlett defended the exclusion of McKim   HERE on the grounds that there were only “two alternative Premiers” and for good measure threw in a gratuitous insult stating that “Nick McKim is never going to be Premier and as important as he thinks he is, that is the facts.”

It is understandable that Bartlett would want to exclude McKim in the hope of corralling journalists and the public into thinking that there are only two choices when electors go into the ballot box. Clearly, Labor strategists fear that Bartlett could be out-performed by McKim and that part of Labor’s soft vote could defect to or stay with the Greens.

Bartlett’s claim that McKim is not going to be Premier is disingenuous. Who becomes Premier is determined by which party can command majority support on the floor of Parliament. With the Greens holding four seats and having reasonable prospects of retaining them all, it is quite possible that they could hold the balance of power. It is quite reasonable for Tasmanian electors to be informed about the respective polices of the three major parties and how they would handle the balance of power scenario.

While it is possible to understand why Bartlett wants to freeze the Greens out of the debate, it is difficult to fathom why SKY News would agree to a proposal that is fundamentally undemocratic. Sky News willingness to stage a debate that has been rigged to exclude participation of a party that could determine who forms government is staggering. Sky News CEO Angelos Frangopoulos echoed Bartlett’s rationale for a two-way only debate. He told The Mercury HERE that “Sky News view is that it is a debate between the Premier and the alternate premier - that’s why it is called a leaders’ debate.” (Frangopoulos may well be ignorant of the fact that in the Tasmanian parliament the Greens have party status and McKim is recognised as its leader.)

The Sky News deal is Bartlett’s backstop after he refused to participate in an ABC-hosted debate which proposed to include McKim. “If the ABC is so entrenched in ensuring the Greens, who have less than 20 per cent of the vote, are somehow put up as some alternate premier, I am really pleased that Sky have the foresight to run this debate,” Mr Bartlett said. In 2006, Lennon and then Liberal leader Rene Hidding refused to participate in a ABC hosted debate if the then Greens leader Peg Putt was included. As a result, the ABC cancelled the event. HERE.

Will any Tasmanian journalists play footsie with Bartlett?

In his announcement Bartlett stated that the debate would be moderated by Sky’s Political Editor, David Speers, and that “a panel of local journalists will also be involved in posing questions”. In the media release, Frangopoulos states that “the panel of local journalists would be selected by Mr Speers.” What expertise Speers has in Tasmanian affairs and why he should be selecting the panel is not immediately apparent. Indeed, in agreeing to host such a skewed event Sky News have resoundingly demonstrated why they aren’t an appropriate host for the debate.

Any Tasmanian journalist receiving such an invitation would do well to reject it.

The days of media outlets pretending that the Tasmanian Greens don’t exist are over. It is also worth noting that the debate organised in late 2009 by the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and another by the Tasmanian Council of Social Service’s “Our Island Our Voices” campaign both included McKim. Hours before Bartlett’s media release, The Examiner announced HERE that it would host a debate between Bartlett, Hodgman and McKim, to discuss issues affecting northern Tasmania.

Clearly, any journalist participating in SKY News “leaders’ debate” as it is currently proposed would be knowingly legitimising a Bartlett-initiated stunt designed to marginalise a significant political force in Tasmanian politics. They would also be implicated in an event designed by one political leader to deny Tasmanian voters the opportunity to assess the Greens policies and McKim’s performance as leader.

If Bartlett is serious about restoring trust in democracy, he would be insisting that the Greens be included in all pre-election debates. After all, if his policies are so good, what is he worried about?