Power Sharing Government for Tasmania 2010

Interested Tasmanians filled the Great Hall at the Baha’i Centre in Hobart to engage in an informative evening on Power Sharing Government for Tasmania. The discussion led by an expert panel determined that power sharing between politicians and in turn with the public should occur irrespective of majority or minority government as a natural democratic process. 

Participants defined Power Sharing Government as: 

“Sharing the power, sharing the leadership. This is done in a respectful, cohesive way. It is a chance to utilize skills and political ideologies from all parties, to strongly represent the people.” 

“Politicians representing their electorate, not merely toeing the ‘party line’. Those elected, whatever their political persuasion, committed to working together for the best interests of the people.” 

During the expertly moderated question answer session, topics discussed ranged from the importance of civic education in schools, practical strategies to facilitate constructive dialogue between politicians such as non confrontational seating in parliament, the difficulties of Direct Democracy, the need for a Human Rights Act, and the successes and failures of minority government internationally and in Tasmania.

In recounting the positive outcomes of minority government in Tasmania’s political history, Professor Richard Herr said that “42% of the elections have produced non-majority government and have governed for 38% of the time. Two out of three of the longest serving governments for this period of time were minority governments.”  A member of the audience expanded the point highlighting the fact that during those years, the minority governments achieved many positive and productive outcomes for Tasmania. 

Greg Barns stressed the importance of politicians working together in minority government to achieve positive outcomes, citing examples from Canada, Germany and New Zealand and shedding light on the opportunities for Tasmania. “Do not underestimate the difficulty of power sharing in the context of Tasmania [however] there seems to be a greater opportunity than there was in 1989 because the Greens are less fundamentalist but a more centralist party, as they are in Europe, and therefore more likely to be stable members of a coalition government.”

In reference to changing the culture of Tasmanian politics, Margaret Reynolds stated that “If we got rid of the idea that politics and debate was something of a blood sport and instead replace it with negotiation, respect for one another’s point of view [we could] then try to come to a consensus.”

Margaret also identified that Australian politicians do not engage in the West Minster process like their European counterparts. Party lines are drawn and confrontation is the norm. Crossing the floor on mass, happening in the UK, does not happen in Australia. Limited scope exists for conscience votes and true representation due to the embedded tribal culture of Australian party politics. 

An example of effective tri-partisan power sharing was outlined by Honorable Jim Wilkinson. The Joint Select Committee on Ethical Conduct was made up of representatives of the three political parties and both houses of parliament. The resulting formation of the Tasmanian Integrity Commission promises to improve ethics and integrity of government. He identified that education of politicians in ethics will play a strong role in improving Tasmania’s future.

Concerns remain regarding the current system. “How can we say we live in a democracy and that the system is representational if we have limited opportunities to be involved in the decision making, lobby groups exert power through donations and we only have the opportunity to vote every 3 years? It is essential that details of political donations are made available to the public and that Tasmanians be provided with the opportunities to make informed contributions to the decisions being made, not just at election time but at all times. Strategies such as Deliberative Democracy could be introduced to enable a transition toward a healthy, power sharing democracy,” said Marion Nicklason, Convenor of Tasmanians for a Healthy Democracy and organiser of tonight’s forum.

Those attending included Lord Mayor of Hobart, Alderman Rob Valentine, Deputy Lord Mayor Helen Burnett, Cassie O’Connor MP representing the Leader of the Greens Nick McKim, Alderman Jenny Branch - Liberal Party Candidate for Denison, Alderman Bill Harvey, Independent Candidate for Denison Andrew Wilkie, Andrew O’Byrne Labor Candidate for Denison, representatives of the political parties and members of the Tasmanian community.

Apologies were received from the Premier, Attorney General, Leader and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, members of the legislative council, the Mayor of Clarence City Council and a number of local councilors.

Tasmanians for a Healthy Democracy, a non-party political organisation, aims to continue reinforcing and encouraging a culture of respect and constructive dialogue in the political realm, especially leading up to the State election. A report summarising the discussion and the outcomes of the forum will be compiled and presented to the leaders of the political parties. The report will be made available to the public. Planning for a Governance Network for Tasmania has commenced.