OPINION: Howlett’s victory won’t fix Liberals’ upper house woes

Jane Howlett
Jane Howlett

It’s no secret that the state government’s relations with the Legislative Council were strained in the final year of its first term in office.

So Premier Will Hodgman will be wiping the sweat from his brow after the Liberal candidate for the newly created upper house seat of Prosser, Jane Howlett, prevailed on Tuesday night.

After the departure of the late Attorney-General and Pembroke MLC Vanessa Goodwin – who died of brain cancer in March – the Liberals were left with just one member in the Legislative Council, Montgomery MLC Leonie Hiscutt.

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Much to the Liberals’ dismay, Ms Goodwin’s seat was wrested from them by Labor in a November byelection, with Jo Siejka bringing the Opposition’s tally of upper house members up to four.

The Prosser election result came a week after the Hobart result was made known.

Progressive MLC Rob Valentine, a thorn in the government’s side, held onto his seat, defeating Liberal candidate Simon Behrakis and independent Richard Griggs.

This would have unnerved the Liberals, as Ms Howlett fought it out with Labor candidate Janet Lambert and wildcard independent Steve Mav in the battle of Prosser.

Ms Howlett ended up winning convincingly, restoring the Liberals’ numbers in the traditionally independent Legislative Council.

But, as it stands, the upper house is still dominated by progressives, presenting an ongoing challenge for the government.

The Liberals have been accused of attempting to ram their legislation through the Legislative Council without paying heed to the overwhelmingly progressive sensibility of its members.

The government’s law and order agenda met fierce opposition from the upper house at every turn in 2017, as it persisted with bringing forward bills related to mandatory minimum sentencing – a concept which the majority of MLCs are ideologically opposed to.

On Wednesday, Ms Howlett said she would be “working hard” to ensure the government’s legislation would be passed in the upper house and that she would need to start developing relationships with her colleagues.

And well she should – because with a rogue Speaker of the House of Assembly, Sue Hickey, pledging to use her casting vote “independently”, the Liberals are now staring down adversity in both houses of Parliament.

Having two MLCs once more in the Legislative Council will no doubt help the Liberals, but it still doesn’t change the make-up of the house a great deal.

The 49th Parliament will be defined by the government’s dealings with both Ms Hickey and the upper house.

Needless to say, an obstinate approach just won’t cut it.