Tasmania’s Premier Jeremy Rockliff will go to the governor tomorrow to request an early election.
It comes after he issued an ultimatum to the two former Liberal backbenchers who quit his party last May, throwing it into minority.
Mr Rockliff wanted Lara Alexander and John Tucker to sign a new stricter agreement, which he believed would guarantee Tasmanians “certainty and stability”, but the pair rejected his proposal.
After spending the day meeting with his parliamentary Liberal team, Mr Rockliff said it had become clear that the only way forward was to call a general election.
“It was unanimously agreed that in the light of this, it was appropriate for me to request the governor to call a general election,” he said in a statement.
“The only way to restore the stability and certainty Tasmanians need is to re-elect a majority Liberal government.”
The next election wasn’t due until May 2025, but Mr Rockliff claimed the independents made the parliament unworkable.
While he did have an agreement with them to guarantee the government supply and confidence, he felt they had not upheld their side of the bargain.
That was because Ms Alexander and Mr Tucker used their independence to support opposition motions and amendments, to criticise the government, and even send the Energy Minister Guy Barnett to the privileges committee.
The final straw appeared to be Mr Tucker’s threat in early January to “bring down the government” if it didn’t satisfy his concerns around mandatory CCTV in abattoirs and the AFL high performance centre.
The premier then issued his own ultimatum — sign a new stricter agreement that would mean the pair could not vote for Labor, Greens or independent motions, amendments or legislation or he’d consider calling an election.
The three attempted to resolve their differences at a meeting on Friday but with none willing to budge, it was far from productive.
While the independents initially said they were still hoping to find a resolution, the premier and the rest of his parliamentary team have shut the door on that.
Mr Rockliff can only ask Governor Barbara Baker for a general election, it is not guaranteed she will agree.
Early election the governor’s call
Political analyst Kate Crowley said the governor could instead ask Mr Rockliff to test the government’s support in parliament.
“The governor might accept [Mr Rockliff’s] advice, or the governor might say, ‘look, could you first just go test that on the floor of parliament, you may actually be able to govern’,” Dr Crowley said.
“It’s not in the bag that there will be an election, but it definitely looks like it’s on the cards.”
Dr Crowley said she believed Mr Rockliff had “pre-emptively” blown up the government.
“He doesn’t actually need to. The independents that he’s concerned about have given confidence and supply and he should be able to work with that.”
“You really can’t throw in all your toys and say we’re going to an election every time you hit a hurdle.
“It needs to be much more grown up than that, but I do appreciate that this government has had minority thrust upon it and it just can’t basically stand it.”
If the governor does grant Mr Rockliff his election, it is expected to be held on March 23, the week before Easter.
Premier ‘engineered this crisis’
Ms Alexander said she had no doubt Mr Rockliff had been planning an early election.
“It’s been quite obvious to the public that Jeremy and his team have been campaigning since early January,” she said.
“From my perspective, I don’t think the relationship was broken.
“Jeremy engineered this crisis two weeks ago out of the blue, by sending a letter to say that he thought I broke my commitment to supply confidence, which was not true.
“And I have asked him in private as well as in public to prove to me, when did I withdraw my supply and confidence. And he wasn’t able to do that.”
Labor and Greens ‘ready’ for election
The leaders of the Labor and Greens parties say they are ready for an election, but they both had criticism for Mr Rockliff.
“After two weeks of dithering since trying to be the tough guy to John Tucker and Lara Alexander, the premier has never looked weaker,” Labor leader Rebecca White said.
Tasmanian Greens leader Rosalie Woodruff said:
“This is the second term in a row we’ve seen a Liberal premier call an election a year early purely for the sake of their own political self-interest.
“So much for ‘stable majority government’.”