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MEDIA RELEASE: Is a backflip all that bad?

Published in The Mercury Newspaper, Friday 1st March 2024

During this current Tasmanian State election campaign plenty of terms and slogans are being bandied around in equal measure by both major parties. Terms like moving forward, strong plan and cost of living relief are used when they describe themselves but what words are used to describe each other’s actions when it comes to policy changes?

The term that is used more often than not is backflip but what does it really mean? In politics, the term backflip often carries negative connotations, implying a reversal of stance that can be seen as opportunistic or insincere. However, is it time to challenge that narrative and are political backflips not only pragmatic but necessary for effective governance?

The Tasmanian Liberal Party has put a big caveat on all their proposals during the current campaign by the prefacing all their commitments and promises with the words “A re-elected Majority Liberal Government will…”. At this stage it would appear that Taylor Swift playing at a new roofed stadium on Hobart’s waterfront is more likely than any party forming a majority Government.

The scene therefore has already been set by the Tasmanian Liberals to have an excuse for some policy changes or in monopoly terms a “get out of jail free card” if they form a minority Government. The question is are these potential policy changes backflips and broken promises or are they political pragmatism. The answer is that they are both, it just depends which side you are on at the time.

Of course, there lies the actual problem, the reason voters switch off during the campaign and politics in general is the constant point scoring and one upmanship. Outside the political sphere people don’t care who came up with an idea first or who had a certain policy 10 years ago they care about now.

The general public amongst other things care about the current state of the health system, housing affordability, having a decent paying job and a reliable public transport system not grandstanding and bickering. If the major political parties’ position was to alienate and disenfranchise the majority of people that don’t follow politics, then they have all succeeded. The rise in minor parties and independents is in no small part their own doing.

One of the purposes of government is to set policies and agendas for the good of people while at the same time listening to the people. Should then the act of changing a stance on an issue after consultation from stakeholders, whether they be the public or business groups be encouraged and applauded not demonised? What is the point of Government if when they do listen there is no chance that they will act on feedback and ideas canvased?

As chair of the Confederation of Greater Hobart Business I am in regular contact with local small businesses. As the engine room of the economy, small businesses are at the pointy end of many policy decisions and are often the first to lobby the government on policy matters.

Invariably something that affects small business can potentially have wider ramifications for the economy as a whole. Small businesses themselves are constantly reviewing decisions, changing direction, and abandoning things that do not work for them.

Where would we be without pragmatic small businesses with the willingness to be innovators and incubators for new products and ideas. By some of those measures small businesses are the biggest back flippers of them all.

As we come out the other side of this campaign and the extremely likely result of a hung parliament and therefore a minority government is it time, we embraced pragmatism in politics and recognise that sometimes, the ability to change one’s mind is the mark of true leadership?

Is a backflip actually an essential quality for effective leadership, one that requires the courage to admit when one’s initial assumptions were wrong and the flexibility to change direction accordingly? Or are we going to stick with the old mantra of one person’s policy backflip is another’s strategy adjustment?

Edwin Johnstone is Chair of the Confederation of Greater Hobart Business.