Federal Labor caucus makes presence felt in Tasmania

Opposition treasury spokesman Chris Bowen and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten
Opposition treasury spokesman Chris Bowen and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten

In the wake of the federal budget being handed down last week, Tasmania has hosted a number of the country’s most senior Labor politicians.

Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek toured the state earlier in the week, while Opposition Leader Bill Shorten reared his head in the North-West on Friday.

The visits came after Treasurer Scott Morrison made no mention of Tasmania in his budget night speech, raising the hackles of many an interest group.

When Opposition treasury spokesman Chris Bowen touched down in Hobart on Thursday, he made a point of noting that no members of the Coalition had visited the state since the budget was unveiled on the night of May 9.

“They don’t hold any seats here, maybe they’ve given up the ghost when it comes to fighting for Tasmanians,” Mr Bowen said.

The 2016 double dissolution election bore witness to the spectacular fall of Tasmanian Liberal MHAs Eric Hutchinson, Andrew Nikolic and Brett Whiteley.

Labor pulled off a stunning insurgency, seizing the seats of Bass, Lyon and Braddon from the so-called Three Amigos. 

Mr Bowen, clearly pleased with himself, took the opportunity to emphasise Labor’s relative stranglehold on the state.

“The fact that we are here in a very busy week post-budget, shows how seriously we take the Tasmanian economy and the people of Tasmania,” he said.

State Treasurer Peter Gutwein, however, batted away the idea that federal Ministers had neglected to schedule trips to Tasmania following the budget’s release.

“We have a strong relationship with the federal government and we’ll continue to work collaboratively with them,” Mr Gutwein said.

He downplayed suggestions the state was ignored in the federal budget, observing that Tasmania received the “single largest payment” for the Mersey Community Hospital.

Speaking at St Brigid’s Catholic School in Wynyard, Mr Shorten joined the chorus of Labor voices criticising the federal government for supposedly neglecting Tasmania in the wake of the budget.

“It’s almost like they want to punish Tasmania,” he said.

“What an arrogant bunch they are.”

We shouldn’t forget, though, that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull came to Tasmania twice in April.

When the Mersey’s federal funding deal was detailed, Mr Turnbull was on the North-West Coast, speaking to locals and visiting the hospital itself.

Then, little more than two weeks later, the Prime Minister was in Launceston signing the much-vaunted City Deal.

On the same day, Mr Turnbull was at the Trevallyn Power Station in the state’s North, proclaiming that Tasmania could become the “battery of the nation” with a new tranche of pumped hydro schemes.

After the federal Liberals failed to win any Tasmanian seats in the House of Representatives at the 2016 election, they conceded much of their influence in this state.

While the Prime Minister’s recent visits would suggest the Liberals haven’t forgotten about us entirely, the influx of senior Labor people appearing in Tasmania indicates the Opposition sees an opportunity here.

Emboldened by Rebecca White’s elevation to the state Labor leadership, federal Labor seems to think it can help the Tasmanian caucus win the next state election by throwing its weight around.

If nothing else, there’s one thing we can glean from this week’s succession of visits.

Labor smells blood.