Our MLCs: who made the grade in 2013?

THESE assessments are based on a politician's performance in the upper house and in front of the cameras, not in their electorate, and are compiled by our senior editorial team.

Derwent Labor MLC Craig Farrell

Rating: B+ (same as last year)

The nicest man in politics, Craig Farrell has been stuck between the wall of government and the very hard place of the Legislative Council and, this year, begun to side with the hard place. The first unaided leader of government business in the upper house in living memory (which in the upper house is quite a long time), Mr Farrell has juggled a busy and often messy legislative agenda in a manner timed to meet the average bladder and attention span of his fellow MLCs with good humour and a convincing portrayal of patience. His popularity was evident in the most recent skirmish between government and the upper house, when both sides resolutely refused to blame him for gripes like the order legislation was introduced, despite it being his responsibility. Perhaps that's because both sides know he's not actually in control.

Murchison independent MLC Ruth Forrest

Rating: A (same as last year)

Ruth Forrest is intelligent, hardworking and passionate and as such has made enemies of at least half the Legislative Council. If the upper house were a high school movie, Ms Forrest would be the debate team captain who's not allowed to sit at the cool kids' table. Her advocacy of same-sex marriage and strong support for recently passed abortion reforms further widen the wedge between her and some other MLCs. Economist Saul Eslake recently said Ms Forrest was the most promising politician in Tasmania. That won't gain her a seat on the cool kids' table but it should earn her points with the public.

Windermere independent MLC Ivan Dean

Rating: D (down from a B)

The Animals of Farthing Wood was a BBC television series in which a family of red foxes moved into a reserve populated by blue foxes, and true to the narrative conventions of these things promptly started a war. This resulted in a generation of children who, for a time, falsely believed in the existence of blue foxes. Ivan Dean's fox nemesis may or may not be blue - no one's seen it - but by all credible accounts it's similarly fictional. It's tempting to echo the words of Mersey MLC Mike Gaffney and urge Mr Dean to shift his focus from "foxes, footy and pulp mills" to matters of substantive legislative debate.

Apsley independent MLC Tania Rattray

Rating: C+ (up from a D)

Tania Rattray was abused by her electorate and even members of her family for changing her vote to support the forest peace deal at its final hurdle through the upper house in June. Ms Rattray had opposed the deal at every other vote, but said when it became clear it had passed she supported it and turned her focus on to making sure people in her electorate who were entitled to compensation didn't miss out. You might not back her about face, but standing up to her electorate and making an unpopular call took guts and showed a longer-term view.

Rumney independent Liberal MLC Tony Mulder

Rating: C- (down from B-)

Tony Mulder firmed up his position as an unpredictable swing vote on absolutely everything this year. But while his evasive, occasionally contradictory answers and choose-your-own-adventure speeches may be entertaining for journalists, they're bound to be frustrating for his constituents who just want to know what he thinks. He supported the forest peace deal only after carefully setting a number of trip wires in the durability requirements that could undermine the whole thing. He said in an email leaked after the debate that his aim was to "get some fed dollars, watch it fall over". A less duplicitous approach would be welcomed.

Pembroke Liberal MLC Vanessa Goodwin

Rating: A (up from a C)

A better prepared and more competent legislator you could not find. Vanessa Goodwin was comfortably re-elected in May and it's easy to see why: she is adept at steering debate in the upper house, keeping fellow MLCs on task in committee hearings and pointing out the tiny legal screw that has gone ping in the corner and will cause serious mechanical issues in the legislation being debated if not correctly reinstalled. Her performance as the opposition's attorney-general spokeswoman is less polished - relentlessly repeating the same pre-approved line at a press conference is not a luxury she'll have if she gets in government.

Mersey independent MLC Mike Gaffney

Rating: B- (same as last year)

If The Examiner was a morning television program, it might get a body language expert in to talk through exactly what Mike Gaffney's clenched fists and jaw say about his opinions of his upper house colleagues. Instead, we'll just say that if the rage behind Mr Gaffney's calm exterior continues to build at current rates he's just two blocked bills and a private member's day debate about foxes away from picking up a chair and hurling it across the chamber, or he would be if they weren't so damned heavy. The most impressive display to date was his contribution to Ivan Dean's pulp mill debate, in which he told everyone they were useless and stomped off to his office to focus on "more important matters". We suppose having two jobs must try your patience.

Montgomery Liberal MLC Leonie Hiscutt

Rating: D (first year in class)

Leonie Hiscutt was elected to former Legislative Council president Sue Smith's seat in May, so it's fair to cut her a bit of slack. Unfortunately, that doesn't quite cover it. Mrs Hiscutt hasn't quite got her head around the procedure of Parliament and, in debate, sometimes doesn't appear to have her head around the legislation. She is refreshingly frank and unstudied for a non- independent but, in this case, where the standing orders are concerned, a little study might help.

Rosevears independent MLC Kerry Finch

Rating: C+ (down from a B)

Kerry Finch is a great fan of the member's special interest speech, taking the opportunity to champion issues like the importance of eating less sugar. Less rousing are his missives on actual issues before the house. It's hard to recall him ever voting against a piece of government legislation, which is why the Liberal Party says it will run a candidate against him in the election next year. Mr Finch has deep roots in his electorate and doesn't seem worried about his chances, but he'll need to step up to beat the Libs in full campaign mode.

Launceston independent MLC Rosemary Armitage

Rating: C- (down from a C+)

Rosemary Armitage has attracted attention less for what she's done but rather what she's said this year. In a debate on same-sex adoption, Ms Armitage invoked the Stolen Generation and wondered whether Tasmania might one day be called on to say sorry for this. In the abortion debate, she rejected a requirement for doctors to inform their patients of other services, saying "if you can get pregnant, you can Google abortion and find a clinic". We gently suggest that a government policy of ripping families apart and keeping a stock book in an attempt to breed a whiter race is not an appropriate comparison for legislation allowing loving parents to adopt. Perhaps she could Google a better one.

Western Tiers independent MLC Greg Hall

Rating: B+ (up from a B)

If only Tasmania would let its farmers grow genetically modified poppies in world heritage areas, Greg Hall would be happy. In the meantime, supporters of those causes have a champion in Mr Hall, who appears to have taken the inclusion of areas of the tiers into the heritage area as a personal affront. The straight- talker's defence of the rights of locals may have endeared him to them but it has put environmental groups and the government firmly offside.

Huon independent MLC Paul Harriss

Rating: A- (up from a B)

Paul Harriss announced last month that he was stepping down as president of the unofficial Liberal fan club and was now a paid-up member of the party, with plans to run as a lower house candidate in Franklin in March. His audition for the party included a lengthy, and to some degree successful, campaign to undermine the forest peace deal and a demonstrated ability to put a stumbling block in front of any of the government's most cherished ideas for reform. It will be interesting to see how some other conservative MLCs behave once the puppeteer cuts his strings.

Nelson independent MLC Jim Wilkinson

Rating: B- (up from a C+)

Jim Wilkinson won his fourth election in May, despite campaigns targeting his lack of support for state-based same-sex marriage laws. Mr Wilkinson said he'd never experienced tactics like that, possibly because when he last faced the polls in 2007 the fledgling GetUp was more concerned with some bloke named Kevin. He gave up his legal practice after the election but kept the black robe, wearing it in his new role as Legislative Council president.

Elwick independent MLC Adriana Taylor

Rating: C+ (up from a C-)

Adriana Taylor wavered over the forest peace deal for almost six months before finally backing it in. The price of that support was a tricksy fail-safe for specialty timber supplies that could, if triggered, rapidly turn peace into war. The so- called Taylor amendment states that if Forestry Tasmania can't meet its specialty timber demands from designated coupes, it can get them from World Heritage Areas. Reassuring for the boat-builders but a red rag to ENGOs.

Hobart independent MLC Rob Valentine

Rating: B- (up from a C)

A reasonably low-profile figure for a former Lord Mayor of Hobart, Rob Valentine won a few new fans in the abortion debate by making controversial statements like "women should have control over their own bodies". Twitter approved. Mr Valentine has warmed into the job in his second year and is usually a careful and measured contributor to debate. Extra points for the impressive hat collection and daring attempt to bring back the bolo tie.

Launceston independent MLC Rosemary Armitage scored a C-.

Launceston independent MLC Rosemary Armitage scored a C-.


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