Tasmanian parliament to expand to 35 lower house seats amid concerns about ministerial burnout | Tasmania

The number of MPs in Tasmania’s lower house of parliament is set to increase by 40% after the new Liberal premier, Jeremy Rockliff, responded to concerns about politician burnout and a shallow ministerial talent pool.

Rockliff made a surprise announcement on Wednesday that he would table legislation this year to increase the size of the House of Assembly from 25 to 35 members at the next state election, due in 2025.

The change, backed in principle by all MPs, reverses a cut in the number of parliamentarians in 1998 when the Liberal and Labor parties acted together in what was widely seen as an attempt to reduce the influence of the Greens.

Under the Hare-Clark system, Tasmania elects five lower house MPs in each of five multi-member electorates for 25. Until 1998 there were seven MPs in each electorate.

Rockliff’s announcement follows a long-run campaign by the Greens and some community groups to restore the numbers to 35 due to concerns there were not enough MPs to perform the roles of parliament and represent the community.

Calls for an increase have grown after several surprise high-profile resignations attributed to burnout. Rockliff’s predecessor, Peter Gutwein, quit in April, citing a heavy workload and a desire to spend more time with family. It came shortly after the departure of the education minister, Sarah Courtney. Gutwein’s predecessor, Will Hodgman, resigned in early 2020.

Rockliff told parliament on Wednesday that it was widely acknowledged the small numbers in the House of Assembly meant a huge workload for ministers and challenges in forming committees.

State ministers hold multiple unrelated portfolios. In addition to being premier, Rockliff is the minister for health, mental health, wellbeing, tourism, and trade.

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The premier said increasing the number of MPs was “the right thing to do” but acknowledged that it might not be popular with all in the community, given it would bring additional costs. Treasury analysis in 2019 found the proposed increase cost $5.9m initially and $6.4m annually.

Tasmanian parliament

Rockliff said it was about “ensuring the Tasmanian parliament remains in the best shape to deliver the best outcomes for Tasmanians.”

“It won’t be a popular issue for Tasmanians, Mr. Speaker, but it’s the right thing to do,” Rockliff said. “Ultimately, government, and all our work in this place, is not about popularity. We all recognize the need for this to happen. We all say it privately, I know we do, and sometimes you’ve got to have the courage of your convictions and do what’s right.”

The Labor opposition backed the move, the Greens, and lower house independent Kristie Johnston.

The Greens leader, Cassy O’Connor, who had brought on Wednesday’s debate with a motion in private members’ time, said it was a “hugely significant” change.

She praised Rockliff and said the restoration of MP numbers had the support of community and business organizations, including the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Tasmanian Council of Social Services.

“This is a mark of great courage and a premier who is prepared to do the right thing, even if it’s not necessarily going to be popular,” she said. “Tasmanians will be better served by a larger parliament and a deeper talent pool for the ministry, and they deserve stronger representation at the community level.”

She called on Rockliff to introduce legislation that reinstated the pre-1998 system by retaining the state’s five seats – Braddon, Bass, Lyons, Clark, and Franklin – and increasing the number of MPs in each to seven.

A return to greater numbers has been debated for years. In 2010, the three parties signed an agreement to restore the numbers to 35, but it was not acted on. Before his departure, Gutwein had said he supported the increase, but it was not a priority for his government.

The 25-member parliament has 13 Liberal MPs, nine from Labor, two Greens, and one independent.

Electoral analyst Kevin Bonham calculated if it had been a 35-seat chamber, the makeup would probably have been 17 or 18 Liberals, 12 Labor MPs, three Greens, and two or three independents.

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.