On the eve of the Tasmanian budget, there is inevitably plenty of number crunching going on in State Parliament.
But without a strong surplus of Liberal MPs, it could be the numbers on the floor of the house that expose a potential black hole in Will Hodgman’s government.
The Premier has stubbornly maintained he is leading a majority government, despite new Speaker Sue Hickey vowing not to toe the party line.
“We have 13 members, yes we have an independent speaker, but Sue Hickey is a member of the Liberal Party, and we have 13 members and that’s a majority,” Mr Hodgman said last month.
It doesn’t take a treasury boffin to work out that 13 minus one equals minority government.
Despite declaring herself a “proud Liberal”, the new Speaker has made significant moves to distance herself from her colleagues since failing to secure a ministry.
Sue Hickey snatched the Speakership from colleague Rene Hiding last month. (ABC News: Scott Ross)
She has hired her own adviser, a former senior public servant who has publicly criticised the Premier, and has said she will not attend Liberal party meetings.
The first tests of Ms Hickey’s loyalty are on the way, later today, in the form of motions tabled by Labor and the Greens.
The Greens threw the first hand grenade, proposing a regulatory pause on entire homes in greater Hobart being listed on Airbnb and other short-stay accommodation websites.
They expect Labor’s support, and while they won’t get much love from government benches, they hope Ms Hickey is sympathetic to the plight of those who are being squeezed out of the private rental market.
Labor added fuel to the fire, proposing a motion compelling the Health Minister to provide pregnancy terminations in the public hospital system by July 1.
It follows the closure of the state’s only dedicated abortion clinic in January, forcing women to pay for the procedure in the private system or travel interstate.
The Greens are backing Labor, meaning the casting vote may again fall to Ms Hickey.
Motives behind votes important to watch: Herr
Political analyst Richard Herr does not believe Ms Hickey’s support for either motion would threaten the Government’s majority.
“These are both resolutions, they’re not particularly binding on the Government, they don’t challenge, necessarily, the Government’s control of the Parliament,” he said.
“The real issue is the symbolic nature of the decision she makes.”
Richard Herr says the Speaker’s vote will give an insight into her long-term ambitions. (ABC News: David Hudspeth)
“Does she vote with the Government because she feels that it is her duty to support the Government’s position, or does she feel that these are not money bills, they’re not legislation, and therefore she has the freedom to express a different view?”
The Premier appears to have the most to lose if Ms Hickey’s vow of independence turns out to be more than words.
“We will govern alone or not at all,” Mr Hodgman said in January, one of many occasions on which he ruled out forming a power sharing coalition.
Asked at the time if that commitment applied to any Liberal Government, or a Hodgman Liberal Government, he replied:
“A majority Hodgman Liberal Government.”
How long will Hickey ‘poke Liberals in the eye?’
Speculation has been mounting that the Premier will step aside if Ms Hickey crosses the floor on major legislation.
Professor Herr said while the outcome of today’s motions was highly unlikely to force the Premier’s hand, it could give an insight into Ms Hickey’s longer-term political ambitions.
“If she keeps poking the Liberal Party and the Government in the eye, obviously that has long-term consequences for her capacity to fight under the Liberal banner at the next election,” he said.
“If she wants to contest the next election as an independent, she may well choose to try and use occasions such as this, which won’t necessarily bring down the Government, that might help give her a different profile for the electors of Denison.”