Upper house

Does Tasmania need more politicians? Greens call for bigger talent pool following Sarah Courtney’s resignation

The resignation of Tasmania’s education minister has revived calls for a bigger parliament, but a former MP has said adding more politicians will not guarantee a bigger pool of talent.

Sarah Courtney quit on Thursday after returning home from a much-criticized European holiday, during which she caught coronavirus, got stuck in France and missed the start of the first term.

She dismissed criticism of her vacation – taken as teachers, education department staff and families prepared to return to school – and said she was leaving to spend more time with loved ones .

It is not yet clear who within government will assume his portfolios, which also included tourism and hospitality, vocational training and workforce growth, disability services, and children and youth.

Tasmania has 25 lower house MPs, up from 35 before 1998.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Gutwein struggles to find ‘sufficiently talented backbencher’: Greens

Ms Courtney said she was confident she would be competently replaced, but Greens leader Cassy O’Connor said Prime Minister Peter Gutwein faced a ‘really tough decision’ to find a ‘sufficiently talented MP’ backbenchers” to take on Ms. Courtney’s job.

“He is going to be very limited in his choice of ministers in the future, so we would ask him to review our legislation to restore the figures [of politicians] and see the meaning,” Ms O’Connor said.

Woman in green top speaking.
Greens leader Cassy O’Connor said a bigger parliament would improve governance.(AAP: Rob Blakers)

“Most Tasmanians now realize that the House of Assembly is far too small and when a situation like this happens it really highlights the need for a deeper talent pool, better representation and stronger governance.”

In 2020, a cross-party parliamentary committee released a report recommending increasing the state’s lower house to 35 seats.

Lower house numbers have dropped from 10 in 1998 to 25 now.

The Greens have tabled a House of Assembly Restoration Bill, which would restore the House of Assembly to 35 seats and allow an additional cabinet minister, but it has yet to be debated.

Mr Gutwein said now was not the right time to increase the size of parliament, a sentiment echoed by Labor leader Rebecca White on Thursday.

“We understand that increasing the size of parliament is of interest to some people, but it is not our priority at the moment,” she said.

“We need to support our community and our economy to recover from the impacts of COVID, and that’s where we’re dedicating our time.”

A man rubs his eyes.
Are Tasmania’s politicians overwhelmed?(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Tasmania is already ‘over-governed’

Former Liberal leader Bob Cheek spoke in 1998 in support of downsizing the House of Assembly.

Bob the cheek
Former Liberal politician Bob Cheek backed downsizing Tasmania’s parliament in the 1990s and he hasn’t changed his mind.(ABC News)

Speaking on Thursday, he called Tasmania ‘the most governed state in Australia and one of the most governed in the Western world’, pointing to its 25 Lower House MPs, 15 Upper House MPs, 29 councils and 12 senators.

“It’s just an ego trip more than anything to get more politicians in there. They’re just not needed.”

He was elected in 1996, when there were 35 members in the House of Assembly, and said it was not necessary.

“You can go to 50 and that doesn’t mean you’ll have better people,” he said.

“When I was first elected, there were 35 people in there and people were crawling all over themselves with nothing to do. They were running around and causing mischief.”

Sue Hickey, another outspoken former Liberal MP, disagreed, saying Tasmanian ministers were overworked and the job was a “tough ask”.

“The fact is that the parliament is too small, there are not enough caliber ministers and the workload is extraordinary,” she said.