IF THE state government's failure to get two major reforms through the Legislative Council this year has taught us anything, it's what the 13 independent upper house members do not like.
Both same-sex marriage and the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Bill were blocked by just one or two votes in the state's upper house, so perhaps paying a little more attention to the pet peeves of our MLCs could mean the difference between success and failure in these close calls.
Here's a list of things (in no particular order) best avoided when trying to win the approval of this unpredictable lot.
Unanswered questions irk the Legislative Council. In the case of same-sex marriage, it was the risk of a High Court challenge. Venturing into uncharted territory meant there were differing views on the likelihood of an expensive court case and the result of such a potential challenge. When it came to forestry, confusion over carbon credits, unknown job losses and differing assessments on specialty timber supply (even from within the specialty timber users) were frequently cited by MLCs. Hence a committee to examine these issues was backed by the majority.
Threats, blackmail and bribes.
"I will not be bought" was the passionate cry repeated by opponents of the forestry deal last week in reference to the $200 million in Commonwealth money offered if the laws were passed by Christmas. It was usually accompanied by a fist banging the lectern to emphasise the point. This is a tricky one to get right, given the aforementioned dislike of uncertainty. The Legislative Council demanded to know what extra government funding would be available, only for some to use that against the governments. They were keen to hear from Ta Ann Tasmania, which told MLCs it would leave the state unless the legislation was passed this year. Supporters of the agreement said it was "telling it like it is", opponents called it a threat. Some even labelled it blackmail.
If you try to steamroll the Legislative Council, it will politely tell you to get stuffed. MLCs let it be known they were not fans of Premier Lara Giddings's "heavy handed" approach and implication they would have "blood on their hands" if they did not support it. Elwick MLC Adriana Taylor made a particular mention of Ms Giddings's dismissal of the Legislative Council's penchant for "dotting every `i' and crossing every `t"' as an excuse. This is significant given Mrs Taylor was the government's best hope of persuading to join seven other MLCs to vote "yes", which would have given them a majority.
They take their role as members of a house of review very seriously. Many members described the pressure they were under to make a decision on forestry as "a gun to the head". Rosevears MLC Kerry Finch, who took the "no time to lose" view, extended the metaphor, saying the safety catch had come off while his colleagues ummed and arred, in a bid to hurry them up. But the majority refused to respond or believe the need for urgency. Western Tiers MLC Greg Hall summed up their preferred approach. "We take advice, we listen to each other and we deliberate each in our own time in our corner of the world."
Bending over backwards to cater to the upper house's every need probably will not make a shred of difference to some of its members with strong views either way. But when the fate of major pieces of legislation comes down to a few undecided, but cautious MLCs, it would not do the government's chances of success any harm to try a little harder to do things the way they like it.