Liberals smashed

A victory for the Tassie ALP ... and The state of the states.

On Monday 15 July, Tasmania won first position on the Evatt Foundation's annual State Government League Table, the nation's only annual government performance assessment based on the triple-bottom line. On Saturday 20 July, Tasmania's Labor government won an overwhelming victory in the State election.

The synchronicity in the report ranking and the election result continues the remarkable predictive record of the Foundation's State of Australia series. Without exception, the government of the State that has come last in the Evatt Foundation's annual rankings for the period immediately before an election - whether Coalition or Labor - has been defeated at that election. Happily, this time the methodology that the Foundation uses to rank the States appears to have worked in the other direction, anticipating the return of Tasmanian Labor.

While the record of the State of Australia series is no doubt more coincidence than rocket science, that coincidence is nonetheless remarkable. On the face, the report's excellent predictive record validates the idea of regularly measuring the performance of the different States against a wide range of commonsensical empirical indicators.

Moreover, the results in the annual League Table also suggest trends, which the mainstream media tends to miss as often as not. And it was the trend in Tasmania that helped the Foundation resolve a small quandary about the timing for the release of this year's report on The state of the states.

Originally, and purely by accident, the report was planned for public release the week after the Tasmanian election; this being more or less the usual time for releasing The state of the states (last year's report was late, because of the Evatt Foundation's focus on the major project that culminated in the release of Globalisation: Australian Impacts).

When in due course the statistical work was completed and the Foundation discovered that Tasmania had won, it was decided to pull the release date forward. This ran the risk of the report appearing to be a Labor media stunt, as is often suggested by Coalition governments that do badly in the annual League Table results (on the other hand, Labor governments that do badly accuse the Foundation of incompetence). At the time, the risk that the report would be interpreted as a propaganda exercise seemed to have been realised, when it turned out that the Tasmanian Premier, Jim Bacon, also launched his campaign on the day of the report's release.

The feeling that some mysterious plot was at work deepened when it was further discovered that Tasmanian Labor was campaigning on the environment, and The state of the states showed that Tasmania owed its first position in the annual rankings because of an outstanding environmental performance: some 34 percentage points above the average. While Tasmania also ranked very highly in social policy, it won a medal in every environmental policy category, collecting two golds, a silver and two bronze, as shown in the following extract from the performance tables:

From the 2002 State
Government League Table

Policy Area/State Tasmania
Environmental Policy  
Sanitation 1
Products 1
Parklands 2
Water 3
Culture 3
Result 1

What firmed up the Foundation's decision to release the report prior to - rather than immediately after - the election, was the fact that Tasmania's first position confirmed a longstanding trend.

Tasmania also won the top ranking in The state of the states last year, after winning third place the year before that. Indeed, the record shows that Tasmania has been climbing up the League Table every year since 1997, when it bottomed out with the wooden spoon. Far from a flash in the pan, the 2002 League Table result therefore looked very robust, suggesting that the Foundation should put the information out in the public interest.

And there was another consideration. While the timing of the report's release risked the perception that the League Table was a stunt, and while it also risked the Foundation looking like a goose if the government lost the poll, to have released The state of the states the week after the election carried the same risks: a Labor victory could have made the League Table results look as if they had been meddled with to reflect the election outcome; while a Liberal victory would have made the results seem very strange, or very stupid, and probably both.

So the election result was a magnificent victory, for Tassie Labor and The State of the States. And now that all this backslapping has tempted the fairies into ensuring that the Evatt Foundation's hitherto remarkable predictive record will come to an abrupt end, no doubt many readers will want to join Simon Crean in congratulating Jim Bacon and his team. In addition to plugging his so-called 'modernisation' campaign, Crean said:

Labor's win shows Tasmanians overwhelmingly believe Jim Bacon has delivered on the agenda he set of transforming the Tasmanian economy and revitalising the whole State. The increased majority for the Tasmanian Labor government is a clear mandate for Jim Bacon and his team to continue to deliver strong economic management, regional development and sound social policies. The result reflects not only confidence in the Bacon Labor government, but is a clear lesson for the Liberal Party that it will continue to be rejected unless it is prepared to turn its back on its divisive, hardline and narrow approach.

It was, perhaps, odd that the Labor leader failed to mention Bacon's record on the environment, although maybe this was due to sensitivity about the logging in old-growth forests - an issue that also saw an excellent result for the Greens in the election. In a dream outcome for Australia's political left, the Labor-Green landslide crushed the Tasmanian Liberal Party.

Labor's vote is reported to have increased by 7.5 per cent to 52.3 per cent, increasing the government's majority under Tasmania's slightly bizzarre Hare-Clark election system by one seat to 15 in the State's 25-seat House of Assembly. Optimistically, returning Premier Bacon said that his re-election sent a strong message that Labor was ascendant in the States and Territories around the country, and was a warning to the Coalition for the next federal election.

Meanwhile, the Greens gained four seats, up from one; and the Liberals were smashed, the party's representation falling from ten seats to six. This result has been widely reported as being the Liberals' worst performance in Tasmanian history, with the party taking only 27 per cent of the vote. ABC election analyst, Antony Green, has gone so far as to suggest that the "Liberal vote ... is probably the lowest vote share achieved by either side of politics anywhere in Australia since the World War I." The defeated leader, Bob Cheek, whose own seat was said to be uncertain at the time of writing, comprehensively conceded: "There is no doubt for the party this is a debacle, a disaster, and I accept full responsibility."

Outspoken Labor frontbencher, Mark Latham, said that the Tasmanian election result was another indication that the political culture of the Liberal Party was "clapped out". Speaking on Channel Seven's Sunday Sunrise, Latham drove home the point that the conservative side of Australian politics has failed at the sub-national level all over the country: "they don't have any real branch activity, they don't have any democracy in their party. It's a sign that the Liberals have major problems in their culture."

Latham also made the point that his leader missed, suggesting that the Liberals had more to fear from the resurgent Green vote than Labor. "People who care about the environment have decided they can no longer vote for the Liberal Party," Latham said. "Our credentials (on environmental issues) are strong, far stronger than the Liberal Party in this regard."

Perhaps Simon Crean should pick up a copy of The state of the states 2002!


The state of the states 2002 is published by the Evatt Foundation.