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Monday, January 16, 2006

Greens tip power play

Greens tip power play ]

The state election could result in Labor needing a partner to govern. SUE NEALES reports

EXPECTATIONS of a strong showing at this year's state election have the Tasmanian Greens already planning how best to claim power alongside Paul Lennon and his Labor Party.

If a hung parliament is the election outcome, with no party winning a majority 13 seats in the lower house, Greens leader Peg Putt plans to enter a formal coalition government with Labor.

Such a Labor-Greens coalition could rocket Ms Putt to a place as Tasmania's next deputy premier, incongruously serving under likely re-elected Labor Premier Mr Lennon.

The Greens would also want to snare several key ministerial positions within any coalition cabinet, with the environment portfolio an obvious prize.


The Greens are confident of winning six seats in the lower house of State Parliament -- two more than they currently hold.

Labor would then likely have to rely on the support of the Greens in a formal alliance in order to govern effectively, since the Liberals have already vowed not to enter into any agreements to govern,

"We believe we have a really good chance of getting six candidates elected and we are saying we're prepared to work to form a majority government with Labor if that is what the people want [by the way they cast their votes]" Ms Putt explained.

`It won't be all our way or theirs [in a coalition], but that's a democracy and that would be the will of the electors."

Ms Putt said a coalition with Labor would only be acceptable if it gave the Greens several key ministerial portfolios and a serious say in how Tasmania was governed.

In the federal sphere, the Liberal-National Party Coalition that underpins the Howard Government has the convention that the position of Deputy Prime Minister is always filled by the leader of the second and smaller coalition partner.

"Yes, that would be logical," agrees Ms Putt, when asked whether she has her sights on the job of Deputy Premier.

Ms Putt said a Labor-Greens coalition could be the solution that best matched the wishes of Tasmanian voters, if the 25 lower house seats are distributed in an election result that allocated 12 seats to Labor, six to the Greens and seven to the Liberals.

A recent telephone voter intention poll by The Mercury, conducted by the TasPoll group, indicated this was the most likely outcome if a state election had been held in mid-December.

The last time the Tasmanian Greens shared power with Labor was in May 1989 under the minority Field Labor Government.

But at that time the five Green members of the Tasmanian lower house were technically independents and so entered into the more informal Green-Labor accord deal that saw Labor's Michael Field seize government with the support of then-local Greens leader Bob Brown.

No portfolios or leadership positions were ceded to the independent Greens under that accord with its major thrust being a limit on woodchip exports and the creation of several national parks in return for the independents support for Labor's Budget and Supply legislation.

Former leader and now Greens senator Bob Brown said it was unfortunate mythologising that now painted the Labor-Green accord of 1989-91 as a time of squabbling, uncertainty and inaction.

"We shared the odium of that dark economic time because we promised to tackle the unknown $100 million debt that the government found itself confronting," Dr Brown explained.

"`But it's not right to describe it as a time of uncertainty; actually it was an extraordinarily exciting and creative government under the accord."

Dr Brown said he was looking forward to the forthcoming state election and the prospect of a Labor-Greens coalition.

"People are saying go for the new, and this time my advice would be to go for a coalition with Labor rather than an accord, and the sharing of Cabinet positions that entails."

The Liberal Party led by Rene Hidding has already committed to not entering an alliance. In November, Mr Hidding warned Tasmania it could not afford a return to the "unmitigated disaster days" of the Labor-Green accord.

"It would be terrifying for the future of Tasmania if Premier Paul Lennon was prepared to go down this path again, or his colleagues were conspiring to bring about this outcome," Mr Hidding said.

"I think all Tasmanians would agree that the notion of Peg Putt controlling Paul Lennon on a daily basis would be a recipe for disaster for the future of our state.

"We would see Peg Putt controlling Treasury, taxes rising, development grinding to a sudden halt, jobs lost and economy going backwards, not to mention the potential introduction of all sorts of wacky policies such as legalisation of hard drugs and heroin injecting rooms."

Ms Putt said the alternative to a coalition was to end up with a parliament where no party had the majority and any two parties could join together to defeat the issues or legislation being promoted by the third.

"I still think that Lennon would, or should, prefer to work formally with another party like ourselves in an alliance, than in a minority government situation," said Ms Putt.

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