Despite pulp mill talk, still a hope for uneasy bedfellows

WE'VE all been there.

Bright sunlight hits hung- over eyes on New Years Day and somewhere between locating the glass of water you helpfully left out a few hours before and realising you've lost your underwear but are still wearing your shoes, that dreaded thought hits you: what did I do last night?

And who the hell is sleeping next to me?

Labor woke up next to the Greens four years ago and, having made them coffee and chatted politely if awkwardly though a full term of parliament, is now looking suggestively at the clock hoping they will take the hint and leave.

The Greens would quite like to leave, having sneaked a disappointed look at Labor's CD collection while Labor was in the shower and been unimpressed with Labor's political views, which seem less earnest than they did last night, but it can't quite make it to the door.

After all, it's quite a nice house, and it's better to be here in government than on the street. They might be tempted to stick around.

If only Labor hadn't mentioned the pulp mill.

The collapse of Gunns, while devastating to its creditors, employees, and the confidence of the forestry industry, was quite useful in keeping conflict between Labor and the Greens in check.

No one in the Labor Party wanted to see such a significant Tasmanian company collapse, but it did transform the single biggest remaining point of contention with its minority partners from burning issue to a moot point.

No matter how strong feelings are on either side it's difficult to work up steam for a proper fight about a development which, quite apart from any other challenges, doesn't even have a buyer.

But that could change now.

Gunns receiver KordaMentha says it's had substantial interest in the Longreach site since offering up the development licence in November.

Both government and opposition will be hoping for news on that front early next year, but the groundwork has already begun.

Opposition Leader Will Hodgman, always happy to help in any venture that keeps the government's eyes focused inward, journeyed to Canberra and brought back a promise of "some form of government assistance" for the controversial project. Fuse lit, Mr Hodgman presumably sat back to watch the show.

For it's part, Cabinet has formed a "major projects" sub-committee, consisting of every member who is not a Green, in the hope that pointedly turning their chairs away from undesirables like a clique of 13-year-old schoolgirls will achieve the necessary separation.

Last week Premier Lara Giddings foreshadowed the end of the affair in a series of end-of-year interviews. She told Southern Cross News she was becoming "increasingly frustrated" with Greens in Cabinet and admitted to The Examiner that while her commitment in March to "absolutely" have Greens in Cabinet again was the right answer at the time, "the fact is, times change".

But with the pulp mill restored as a key election issue, a federal government moving to de-list new World Heritage areas and the likely future state government promising to rip up the forestry deal and jail protesters to boot, times do not appear to be changing.

It would take an enormous shift in public opinion for Labor to win the 13 seats required to govern in its own right. It is possible, though unlikely, it and the Greens could hold enough ground to form another minority government.

Far from saving the furniture, a public slinging match now will only rubbish the Labor-Green government's legacy - and it's not all bad - making it that much easier for the Liberals.

The decision to form government with the Greens in 2010 means it doesn't matter what Labor says now. The expectation is they'd do it again.

All this pantomime can do is make it awkward if, by some chance, the Liberals slip up, and they fall into bed again.

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