Comment: Gutwein’s election rationale evaporates with Ogilvie’s move to Liberals

Ex-Labor MP’s shift raises questions about why Tasmanians are being asked to vote a year early
 March 28, 2021
Published:  March 28, 2021
Once was Labor: Ogilvie lost her bid to hold her seat as a Labor candidate at the 2018 election. Image: Bob Burton.

The Liberal Party’s preselection of former Labor and independent MP Madeleine Ogilvie undermines Premier Peter Gutwein’s sole rationale for calling an early Tasmanian election.

At his media conference announcing the May 1 election, Gutwein said the election would be held a year earlier than necessary because, after telling then Liberal Speaker Sue Hickey she would not be preselected by the Liberal Party, he led a minority government.

“Minority government will lead to a loss of confidence that will lead to a loss of jobs that will impact our economy. That’s something that we simply can’t have,” Gutwein said.

With confirmation in the Sunday Tasmanian that Ogilvie would seek to run as a Liberal, Gutwein is now heading a campaign demanding the election of a majority Liberal government even though he already has 13 out of 25 sitting MPs as candidates.

Gutwein knew there was a good chance Ogilvie would be formally preselected as a Liberal candidate before he called the election.

Asked on Friday if he had requested she join the government, the Premier said he’d “had a number of positive discussions” with her.

On whether she would be a Liberal candidate at the election, Gutwein said “that’s a matter for the party and importantly it will be a matter for Madeleine Ogilvie”.

Two days later Ogilvie has confirmed she is joining the Liberal party with the formal announcement of her preselection following later on Sunday morning.

Ogilvie's Liberal embrace a matter of political survival

Ogilvie would have faced an uphill battle as an independent candidate. A resident of South Hobart, she has established her electorate office in Glenorchy, traditionally a strong Labor area.

With Kristie Johnston - a two-term mayor of Glenorchy City Council - running as an independent, Ogilvie would have faced a tough time against a candidate with deeper roots in the local community.

Johnston has made clear a primary reason she rejected overtures from the Labor and Liberal parties was because of the social impact of poker machines.

“The community are deeply concerned about the social impact of poker machines in our community and the harm it causes on families,” she said  [paywall].

In Tasmania, Glenorchy is ground zero for the damage done by poker machines.

Department of Treasury and Finance data indicates it is the municipality with the highest losses on poker machines.  Since Ogilvie’s swearing-in in mid-September 2019, more than $24 million has been lost.

With the removal of the justification for spending millions of dollars of taxpayers funds on an election to achieve a majority that he already has, questions abound for Gutwein on what he knew of Ogilvie’s latest political conversion, and when he knew it. 

It raises a major question for Ogilvie.  She was a leading proponent for the Labor party adopting a harder stance on poker machines in the run up to the 2018 state election, but her position has softened since she lost her seat in that campaign.

In her unsuccessful campaign for the Legislative Council seat of Nelson in 2019, one of her campaign posters was hosted for a period on a Federal Hotels property in Sandy Bay. Questions about the level of company support for her campaign remain unresolved, with neither Federal Hotels nor Ogilvie responding to questions on the issue.

Intriguingly, Emily Baker at the ABC reported Ogilvie had turned to Brad Nowland and Brad Stansfield for advice during the campaign.

Nowland and Stansfield, both former Liberals advisers, are partners in Font PR, a lobbying and media company that has worked for Federal Hotels and the Liberal Party. (Neither Ogilvie nor Nowland responded to inquiries in 2021 from Tasmanian Inquirer on the issue.)

With the surprise resignation of Labor MP Scott Bacon in August 2019, Ogilvie re-entered parliament on a countback for the vacated House of Assembly seat. Ogilvie was elected on Labor votes but announced she would sit as an independent.

If Johnston posed a challenge to Ogilvie’s prospects from the northern end of the electorate, Sue Hickey’s bid to be returned as an independent poses a different challenge.

Hickey, as a former Mayor of Hobart and the current Speaker of the House of Assembly, has a far higher profile than Ogilvie and a broader political appeal.

Her outspoken support on issues such as the need for more social housing, support for death with dignity legislation, transgender rights and dramatic clashes with Eric Abetz distinguish her markedly from the socially conservative Ogilvie. Hickey’s history in the Liberal party and small business community add another layer of support.

Given most independent campaigns are heavily self-financed, Ogilvie’s switch to the Liberal party will give her access to a deeper pool of resources. Hickey, on the other hand, now finds herself needing to fund her own campaign.

For Gutwein though, Ogilvie’s shift strips away a level of hard won legitimacy.

With the removal of the justification for spending millions of dollars of taxpayers funds on an election to achieve a majority that he already has, questions abound for Gutwein on what he knew of Ogilvie’s latest political conversion, and when he knew it.

Bob Burton is a Hobart-based author, researcher, editor and freelance journalist. He is the Editor of CoalWire, a weekly bulletin on global coal industry developments for the US-based non-profit group Global Energy Monitor. His freelance journalism has been published in a wide range of news outlets from the British Medical Journal to the US-based PR Watch.

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