Behind closed doors, a changed Hodgman Liberal government

The Hodgman Liberal government may look much the same as it did before the election – but behind the scenes, it’s a different story.

While Liberal MHAs Joan Rylah and Nic Street failed to retain their seats, and former frontbencher Matthew Groom resigned six months before polling day, Premier Will Hodgman’s team remains a familiar one.

First-term Denison Liberal and former Hobart Lord Mayor Sue Hickey is the only new face in the government, and you could mount a case that she’s merely a quasi-Liberal following her stunning speakership coup on the first day of the new Parliament.

Hickey’s elevation to the Speaker’s chair left Lyons Liberal MHA Rene Hidding, the longest-serving Liberal in the Parliament, licking his wounds, given the government had nominated him for the role.

It signified a changing of the guard of sorts, with Labor leader Rebecca White and Greens leader Cassy O’Connor – key players in orchestrating the coup – explicitly couching it in terms of a victory for women.

But it’s behind the Executive Building’s closed doors that the most significant change has occurred for the government.

Firstly, the Premier’s former chief of staff Brad Stansfield has moved on, gone to work for federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

Stansfield was the puppet-master during the Hodgman government’s first term.

Once a protege of Tasmanian Liberal Senator and influential party power-broker Eric Abetz, Stansfield’s fingerprints were all over the Premier’s policy agenda.

When news broke that a senior ministerial staffer had used a fake social media account to harass a woman about her views on abortion, that staffer resigned.

Martine Haley’s resignation was followed by a larger staff shake-up.

The Premier said he was confident no other staff had engaged in similar online trolling, but it was nonetheless clear that new blood was needed.

With Stansfield’s departure came fervent speculation about who would succeed him.

The government media unit’s erstwhile enforcer Brad Nowland was promoted to deputy chief of staff to the Premier following the Liberals’ re-election, in what could have been seen as a reward for his contribution to the campaign.

Nowland barely got a chance to warm his seat, however, before he was sent off to work for Treasurer Peter Gutwein after Groom’s former chief of staff Tim Baker got the top job in the Premier’s office.

Baker is a polarising figure within the public service and, if he had anything to do with moving Nowland to Treasury, it may have been because he saw him as a kind of Stansfield plant.

Through his connection to Senator Abetz, Stansfield had direct ties to the right-wing of the Liberal Party in Tasmania.

And it’s sometimes claimed the conservative elements of the party have a stranglehold on the state executive.

Baker’s perceived allegiances are less clear, though.

The media unit is also an entirely different beast now, with a litany of fresh faces.

Young former journalists, an ex-adviser to federal Employment Minister Michaelia Cash and a former head of communications at Tasmania Police make up the more notable additions to the team.

It’s too early to guess the impact all these changes could have on the policy-making and strategy of the government.

But just because we can’t always see ripples on the surface, doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a seismic shift in the deep.