Crisis response may swing voters' minds

TASMANIANS are fantastic in a crisis.

Tasmanians put their shoulders to the wheels of compassion, generosity and bravery during last week's bushfires.

The efforts of police, firefighters, emergency services, government support services, Aurora, volunteers, service groups, and all the individuals who dropped what they were doing to assist others, including visitors, collected feed for stock and wildlife, took care of injured animals, need to be acknowledged.

Interstate and overseas assistance was generous and reciprocal.

Donations of goods and money flooded in and will continue on the back of generous fund-raising efforts across Tasmania and elsewhere.

Natural disasters also test the mettle of governments and the public sector.

The royal commissions into the Victorian bushfires and the Queensland flood events examined how these "catastrophic, cascading events" challenge the capacity of our traditional governance models to prepare and respond.

Established governance approaches, hierarchical government agencies, community- based volunteers and non- government organisations can be overwhelmed, confused and indecisive.

On the back of the royal commission reports and recommendations, governments are seeking robust governance models that have high levels of adaptive capacity to respond to complex challenges.

Robust governance models are akin to military or air-traffic control systems. They provide adequate early detection; flexibility in decision-making; dense patterns of co-operative action and response and the ability to quickly and decisively reorganise if required.

Future inquiries will examine how our governance models fared in Tasmania.

Natural disasters also test the political antennae of politicians and political parties.

In Tasmania, this challenge is exacerbated by electoral cycles: 2013 is the lead-up to the state election in March 2014.

A federal election will also complicate matters.

For the Labor-Green minority government a number of considerations will be occupying the strategic thinkers in the parties.

For Premier Lara Giddings these tragic events are politically acute.

Some of the worst affected areas are in her electorate, Franklin. These are her people.

Polling indicates that Labor is assured of winning only one seat in Franklin.

The management of the recovery will have a real political edge, a battle for the hearts and minds and votes of the people of Franklin.

The recovery program will impact on the fragile state budget bottom- line. How much will it cost? How long will the recovery last?

What Commonwealth funding can be secured and when?

Can the Premier take on the persona of former Queensland Labor Premier Anna Bligh and be an energetic, hands-on, leader in the face of tragedy?

Will the Bushfire Recovery Taskforce - the public face of the government - get the job done in a timely, efficient, patient, understanding and engaged manner?

Ministers look wooden and awkward standing next to the leaders of emergency service organisations faced with the challenge of responding to these tragic events, endorsing their courage and expertise, but having cut their operational budgets.

The Greens are also under political pressure to clarify their position in relation to fuel reduction burns.

The south-east fires in particular also highlight some ongoing policy challenges for this government: planning issues relating to prime agricultural land, forestry plantations and shack development.

Tasmania urgently needs a comprehensive coastal management policy.

A fragile Labor-Green minority government needs a win-win.

A successful recovery plan could launch a political recovery.

Failure will both confirm and increase political disquiet.


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