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Hodgman’s Hickey Problem

Sue Hickey recently gave her first interview since her shock appointment as Speaker of the House of Assembly. She stood by her previous comments that she had no prior knowledge of the plan to instate her in the important role. We may never be sure whether Ms Hickey was in on the plan or not, but we can be sure that this makes the Liberal party’s job of governing for the next four years a whole lot trickier.

So how exactly did this happen, and does it really matter?

Ms Hickey, former Lord Mayor of Hobart, secured the second Liberal seat in the electorate of Denison at the state election, after Matthew Groom did not contest his seat. On election night, she announced her desires for a ministry, with her eyes set on the portfolio of State Growth. When the Premier announced his cabinet shortly after the election, Ms Hickey was left out, leaving her reportedly ‘very disappointed.’ As a newcomer to parliament this is not a big surprise, although Ms Hickey may have been riding on her high profile to get her a more esteemed position than the minor roles of Parliamentary Secretary for Small Business and Urban Development.

Meanwhile, long-serving Liberal MP Rene Hidding announced shortly after the election that he wasn’t interested in returning to cabinet and that he would nominate for the speakership instead. Hidding has been a Member of Parliament for 22 years, and over that time has held the positions of Opposition Leader and Leader of Opposition Business. It would have been hard to find a candidate more qualified for the speakership.

Hidding was the government’s preference for Speaker and had this been a normal first sitting day of a new parliament, he would have ended the day being escorted to Government House by his Premier to be sworn in as the 40th Speaker of the House of Assembly.

But this was no normal day of parliament.

As the government generally has the numbers in the House, their pick for Speaker usually ends up on the chair. After the last election though, the Liberal government was only returned with a majority of one seat, meaning only one Liberal MP would have to vote against the government to swing the numbers 13-12 in favour of the opposition.

And that’s just what happened. Opposition leader Rebecca White, who had allegedly planned this move for some time, nominated Ms Hickey, banking on the fact that her anger towards being overlooked for cabinet would see her take the nomination. It did. With Greens leader Cassy O’Connor, who also knew of the plan, seconding the motion to nominate Hickey, it went to a secret ballot. The result of that was 13 votes to Hickey (all of Labor and the Greens as well as Ms Hickey herself) and the remaining 12 votes going to Hidding. Ms Hickey, the former managing director of Slick Promotions, secured herself her own slick promotion: right into the Speaker’s chair.

It was Hickey, not Hidding, who was escorted to Government House, and not by the Premier, but by Labor’s Rebecca White and Michelle O’Byrne and the Greens’ Cassy O’Connor and Rosalie Woodruff.

Ms White tweeted this photo of the all-female party at Government House, proving that girls really do run the world (or at least the Lower House).

 

So why is this such a big deal?

Well, the Liberal party didn’t take too kindly to being duped.  

Senior Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz labelled the act as treachery and it wouldn’t be surprising if Hickey’s state colleagues felt a similar way. Ms Hickey has since announced that she will be an independent speaker and will not be sitting in on Liberal party meetings. Other than guaranteeing the government confidence and supply (meaning she won’t vote against the government or premier in no confidence motions or money bills), Ms Hickey will vote on every bill on its merits. With the Liberals now only having 12 guaranteed votes when they need at least 13, Ms Hickey will hold the balance of power.

Despite Will Hodgman stating numerous times in the election campaign that he will not govern in minority, this is now effectively what he is doing. Having to secure Ms Hickey’s vote on controversial legislation might prove difficult as Hickey has previously shown more left-wing ideals than expected of a big-‘L’ Liberal. It was under her leadership, for instance, that the Hobart City Council formally joined the push to change the date of Australia Day and flew the Pride Flag until marriage equality was passed.

It is virtually indisputable that this makes Mr Hodgman’s job a whole lot harder than when he was guaranteed bills through at least the Lower House. Despite this, however, he insists that Ms Hickey is still a Liberal and that he still has a majority, making me think the situation is a bit like this:

So, what now for Ms Hickey? Well, it appears she’ll enjoy her opportunity in the limelight for the next four years or so and then may even run again for Tasmanian parliament, possibly as an independent. But will she stop there? From Miss Tasmania 1979 to Tasmanian Telstra Business Woman of the Year 2007, Ms Hickey has built herself up a large profile in her home state. We’ve already seen her go from Lord Mayor of Hobart to Speaker of Tasmanian Parliament; does Ms Hickey have her sights on Canberra? If her profile on the UTas website is anything to go by, she probably does. On that profile, Ms Hickey lists her dream career as Senator for Tasmania. Maybe we’ll be looking at a Sue Hickey Network running candidates for the next Federal election.

If you don’t want to stop there, Sue, the United Nations will be having an election for their next Secretary General in 2021; maybe you could give that a whirl and really put Tassie on the map?

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