28 March 2024

Tasmanian Labor seeks to rebuild after third straight election loss

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Rebecca White

Former Tasmanian Labor leader Rebecca White says she will not re-contest the party’s leadership. Photo: Rebecca White Facebook.

Despite no party yet being able to form government in Tasmania following last weekend’s election, Rebecca White has resigned as Labor leader.

The Liberal Government of Jeremy Rockliff was seen as vulnerable after the July 2023 defection of two of its members – both of whom were defeated in this election – to sit on the cross benches, and the Premier’s decision to call an early election in a bid to regain a majority.

But despite an as-expected voter backlash against the Liberals, Labor also failed to gain any appreciable increase in its vote, with Green, Independent and Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) candidates all gaining seats.

The Tasmanian Liberals currently lead Labor by three seats, while four seats remain in doubt. But even if one party wins all of them, neither will reach the minimum 18 of the state’s 35 seats to govern alone.

After the election, Ms White left the door ajar to possibly negotiate with the Greens and JLN if the Liberals were unable to form government.

“We will wait to see how the dust settles and for the final results to be determined and Labor will be ready to work with the parliament to implement our agenda and our plan for a better future for Tasmania if that is the will of the people,” she said.

READ ALSO Royal Tasmania Regiment takes delivery of Hawkei protected military vehicles

But with only 10 seats decided in Labor’s favour, it would need to win all four still in play plus get the four Greens – with whom Ms White had previously ruled out any chance of an agreement – to come onboard to have any hope of forming government.

But, as the ABC reported, the state party executive stepped in and decided there was no hope of Labor forming government, and spilled the leadership.

“On the outcome of the results yesterday, it seems it’s very unlikely the Labor Party can form government,” Ms White conceded on Sunday before announcing on Tuesday her resignation and her intention not to re-contest the leadership.

“I don’t think it should come as a surprise to anybody that after contesting three elections as the leader of the Labor Party, my time is up,” she said, adding that it was time for renewal.

“It has been an enormous privilege to hold this position and I am grateful for the support of my colleagues and our broader membership for so many years.

“I am proud of the campaign we ran this election and the work so many across our movement put in to try and deliver a change of government. Unfortunately we fell short and as leader I take responsibility.”

Only one candidate has put their hand up for the leadership so far, with Franklin MP Dean Winter reportedly telling his colleagues he will stand. Incoming Clark MP Josh Willie is reportedly counting the numbers but wouldn’t confirm his candidacy, while Bass MP Michelle O’Byrne is also considered a possibility.

READ ALSO Tasmania off to an early election after Rockliff fails to reel in Tucker and Alexander

Ms White said she doesn’t have a view on whether there should be a contest, but wants the party to maintain discipline after what she described as a scandal-free campaign.

“The next couple of weeks will be really important for my colleagues and I as we think about what the next steps are, but I am pleased so far that everyone has been very respectful and I hope that continues,” she said.

“As a party, we’ve matured a lot in the past couple of years and I am confident that we’ll be able to take the next step forward and be united.”

Over at the Liberal camp, despite claiming victory on Saturday night, the road to government is littered with potholes. The Liberals received about 37 per cent of the vote, a nearly 12 per cent drop from 2022, so it will have to govern in minority with guarantee of supply and confidence from the cross-benches, or form a power-sharing or coalition agreement with them.

But with major policy differences with both the Greens on the forestry and salmon aquaculture industries, and JLN on the proposed Macquarie Point stadium, both possibilities look somewhat remote.

As Ms White observed on Sunday: “Dealing with a crossbench the size the Tasmanian community looks to have returned in this election will be a very difficult task for them to manage”.

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