Expert panel reflects on first three weeks of election campaign

WEIGHING IN: Economist Saul Eslake, political scientist Kate Crowley and former journalist Barry Prismall are Fairfax Tasmania's expert election panel. They have provided their thoughts on the first half of the campaign.
WEIGHING IN: Economist Saul Eslake, political scientist Kate Crowley and former journalist Barry Prismall are Fairfax Tasmania's expert election panel. They have provided their thoughts on the first half of the campaign.

At the halfway point of the state election campaign, Fairfax Tasmania’s expert election panel is continuing to provide commentary on all the goings on in the lead-up to polling day.

Saul Eslake

In order to fund their planned gargantuan health spend ($757 million over six years), the Liberals may need to increase taxes, economist Saul Eslake said.

“There is a question as to how they would fund it,” he said.

Mr Eslake previously offered the same assessment of Labor’s $560 million health policy.

He said he was unsure whether Tasmania could afford all the promises both major parties had made so far.

“Both sides of politics have now more than spent the prospective surpluses that were foreshadowed in the update that came out just before the election was announced,” Mr Eslake said.

“There is a bit of room in the budget for additional spending.

“But I’m not sure that there’s sufficient in it to fund all that’s been promised by either side without either going back into underlying operating deficit.”

Kate Crowley

Political scientist Kate Crowley said the Liberals had the “policy edge” over Labor at this point in the campaign.

“Obviously the big headline of the week has to be the strategic coup that the Liberals have dumped into the health policy space to show up Labor,” she said.

Associate Professor Crowley acknowledged the criticisms that had been levelled at the Liberals for back-ending some of their health funding commitments.

“But I don’t know that the average Tasmanian will necessarily be put off by that,” she said.

The Liberals’ “one-upmanship” seemed to be working, according to Associate Professor Crowley.

“They have jumped into Labor’s space with a few things, like affordable housing,” she said.

“Surprisingly, I don’t think the Labor Party is matching them on education policy. 

“In fact, I think the Labor Party’s confused over whether it supports Kindergarten to Year 12 in schools or not.”

Associate Professor Crowley said it was clear that the Liberals’ campaign was better resourced than Labor’s.

Liberal signage appears to be far outnumbering Labor’s advertising material.

“All parties will try to advertise to the limit of their financial capacity,” Associate Professor Crowley said.

“We need to know where that funding comes from.”

Associate Professor Crowley said she did not think the drama which engulfed the Jacqui Lambie Network last week would necessarily harm the party’s state election chances.

“It’s quite possible that the Jacqui Lambie Network will get a sympathy vote because of what Steve Martin’s done, given that he got about 200 votes himself and he’s using that to assume his rightful position in the Senate,” she said.

“I don’t think it will be seen as her party [being] in disarray.”

The Greens continue to pursue issues of concern to the community but neglected by the major parties, she said.

Barry Prismall

Former political journalist Barry Prismall said the campaign so far had been lacklustre.

“The parties appear to be matching promise for promise, including poaching each other’s policies - no more evident than similar health promises, give or take a few hundred million,” he said.

Mr Prismall was drawn to the announcement last week that Premier Will Hodgman’s chief of staff, Brad Stansfield, would resign from the highly powerful role after the election.

“Even if there are compelling private circumstances, the timing is extraordinarily clumsy for a government preaching stability,” Mr Prismall said.

He said the Greens had cleverly targeted fish-farming regulation and an inquiry into foreign ownership provisions which were close to the concerns of regional and rural votes.

But Mr Prismall said the “sleeper issue” was the party’s ambition to form a Tasmanian charter of human rights; a concept supported by Labor.

“So, we will get a charter in a Labor-Greens minority government,” he said.

“This would become a legal bonanza for lawyers, because it deals with a host of issues.

“[It] may appear to be a reasonable antidote to the power and excesses of government, but at the same time, be careful what you wish for.”