Minority government: Accords have to beat odds, and history





Former Labor premier MICHAEL FIELD looks at minority government with the benefit of the experience of the 1989 Accord with the Greens . . .

STATE politics - after March 2010, what?

So no party is going to have a majority after March 2010.

If the opinion polls are anywhere near accurate this is what we can predict with confidence.

Will the emerging government be a stable one?

Will the government be a success tackling the issues that face Tasmania?

History does not give the government much of a chance of making it through a full term.

Admittedly 2010 is not 1989, when the first attempt at minority government was tried.

The Greens were then on a messianic mission and in the end the government resigned rather than face a "no confidence motion".

Such was the Greens' enthusiasm that they went to the 1992 election on the slogan "Go, Go, Go Green Government".

The government didn't last three years of a four- year term and the Labor Party received a very low vote historically in 1992.

The Greens suffered a substantial swing against them as well.

The next attempt at minority government was between 1996 and 1998.

This was a minority Liberal Government depending on Green support.

While much of the angst was not on public view, the way the government ended indicated a level of distress within the government.

The Greens were much more disciplined during this period but behind the scenes they must have made life difficult for the Rundle government, for this government didn't last its four-year term either.

Premier Tony Rundle went for an election, after reducing the size of the parliament and in so doing increased the threshold for winning a seat in parliament.

He failed in his bid to get a majority Liberal government but obviously wasn't prepared to go on in minority again.

In this election, the Green vote slumped to 10 per cent and they were left with only one seat.

The Liberals lost and majority Labor government ensued for over a decade.

If we were making a judgement based on the history of two minority governments, the prognosis is not good.

The dilemma for the Greens is how do they maintain their identity and political support, while keeping a government with a different range of values and support base in power?

What makes it more difficult is that the Greens have a more radical support base than the two major parties.

Most of the Green activists would be at home in the old Labor Party left of the '70s.

Their supporters have strongly held views, are often cynical about the political process and have high expectations that their parliamentary representatives will lead them into "the promised land".

It is inevitable that the longer the Greens support a mainstream political party in government, the more alienated these supporters will become.

In the end the Greens have to make the decision to support the government and lose more and more political support, or distance themselves from the government, even to the point of bringing down a minister or the government itself in order to survive as a political entity.

High levels of mutual understanding and trust are the only antidotes to the inherent problems of a minority government.

As we all know, trust takes a long time to build and it can be undone with one act of perceived betrayal.

We all know from our personal lives that trust is the key to any successful relationship.

The level of trust between the political parties is at historically low levels.

The pressure of minority government means that any trust that does exist is sooner or later tested.

With low levels of trust to begin with, conflict and breakdown appear unavoidable.

The adversarial nature of the Westminster system of government doesn't help.

The major party not in government will be looking to exploit any weakness or policy dispute that occurs, using the parliament as its forum.

As waves of social, economic and environmental challenges roll in, governments have to respond and ideally lead.

There is human imperfection.

Inevitably mistakes will be made by ministers and loyalties under these circumstances tested.

For Tasmania's sake, one would like minority government to work but let's face it, the evidence is against it.

For those who think it will work, well, my conclusion is that they're probably dreaming.