Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff and Opposition Leader Rebecca White
Forming majority government will be a challenge for either Jeremy Rockliff or Rebecca White. Image by Rob Blakers/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Chaos tipped for ‘soap opera’ Tasmanian election

Ethan James February 17, 2024

Australia’s last Liberal premier called an early election with the aim of returning stability and certainty to Tasmania. 

But he’d be bold to think the next five weeks of campaigning and counting on March 23 will be straightforward.

Jeremy Rockliff on Wednesday sent the state to the polls 14 months ahead of schedule after a stand-off with two crossbench MPs couldn’t be resolved.

His government had been in minority since May, when Liberal-turned-independents John Tucker and Lara Alexander quit the party. 

They delivered, and promised to keep providing, votes of confidence and supply but didn’t sign up to Mr Rockliff’s demand for a new more restrictive deal.

The Liberals were re-elected in 2021 for a record third successive term under the banner of “strong and stable” majority government.

Independents John Tucker and Lara Alexander
 John Tucker and Lara Alexander quit the Liberal Party and moved to the crossbench in May. Image by Loic Le Guilly/AAP PHOTOS 

 Since then, premier Peter Gutwein, attorney-general Elise Archer and a host of senior ministers have resigned.

Tasmania’s lower house is increasing from 25 to 35 MPs, dropping the vote quota required for a seat and opening the door for minor parties and independents. 

Seven MPs will now be elected in each of the island state’s five electorates. 

Recent opinion polls have suggested it will be difficult for either major party to govern in their own right.

The Liberals have 11 incumbents and Labor eight, with 18 the target for majority. 

A January YouGov poll of voters predicted the Liberals would win 11 seats, Labor 10, the Jacqui Lambie Network seven and Greens six, with one independent. 

Polling by EMRS in November had support for the Liberals at 39 per cent, followed by Labor (29), the Greens (12) and others including independents (19).

Tasmanian Leader of the Opposition Rebecca White with colleagues
 Recent polling has Labor winning 10 seats. Image by Rob Blakers/AAP PHOTOS 

Political analyst Richard Herr has tipped a “chaotic” election. 

“There isn’t enough to suggest either side will get a groundswell to sweep them into a majority government,” Professor Herr says. 

“With the new quota … we’ll see a large number of third parties and independents (chancing) their arm. 

“That will confuse outcomes on election night, disastrously or wonderfully well depending on which side you’re on.”

The Liberals have faced pressure about below-average education outcomes, a stretched health system, housing shortages and the handling of an inquiry into child sexual abuse in state institutions.

A proposed new stadium at Macquarie Point in Hobart, a condition of the AFL granting Tasmania the licence for a team, is already proving a big issue.

On day one of campaigning, Mr Rockliff promised the Liberal’s $375 million pledge towards the $715 million project would not increase.

roposed Tasmanian AFL Stadium in Macquarie Point
 Views on Hobart’s proposed Macquarie Point Stadium are split. Image by HANDOUT/AFL 

The rest of the funding is coming from the federal government, the AFL and borrowings through commercial leases.

Mr Rockliff indicated any overruns would be made up by private investment, denying he’d breached a contract clause which stated any extra costs would be covered by the state. 

The AFL has said the club is tracking well, ahead of the team’s name and colours being unveiled on March 18. 

Labor, who are pro-team but describe the Macquarie Point stadium as a bad idea, have said they’ll re-negotiate the deal with the AFL if elected. 

Labor, under leader Rebecca White who is in her third premiership tilt, have begun their campaign promising to cap power prices and provide more childcare support. 

The party, which only recently came out of administration, is without big vote getter David O’Byrne who will run as an independent. 

Mr O’Byrne was cast adrift from the Labor parliamentary team after sexual harassment allegations were aired dating back to when he was a union leader in the mid-2000s.

Former Tasmanian Labor leader David O'Byrne
 Cast adrift by Labor, former party leader David O’Byrne will run as an independent. Image by Ethan James/AAP PHOTOS 

Political hopefuls have until February 29 to nominate.

The Jacqui Lambie Network, formed by the popular Tasmanian senator, is running candidates in four electorates. 

The Liberals have high-profile former senator and conservative Eric Abetz as a candidate in the southern seat of Franklin. 

Mr Tucker and Ms Alexander have their hats in the ring as independents in Lyons and Bass respectively. 

Former minister Jacquie Petrusma, one of the Liberals to quit last term, has appeared in a party newspaper advertisement ahead of a formal announcement.

Ms Archer, who was dumped as attorney-general after bullying allegations and a texting saga, said she would run as an independent but pulled out a day later for health reasons.

“To call Tasmanian politics a soap opera since May last year would be unfair to soap operas. It has been a shambles,” Tasmanian federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie told reporters.