Gutwein gone, with unfinished business awaiting successor

Outgoing Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein wanted to leave his mark.

He set the wheels in motion on a series of issues that could significantly change the state, including well overdue steps toward treaty with the Aboriginal community and a $750 million Hobart stadium that would pave the way for a Tasmanian AFL team.

Other great reforms took a little more prodding.

The closure of the Ashley Youth Detention Center — dogged by decades of rape claims by former detainees — had long been recommended, and was announced only after a worker blew the whistle on alleged workplace sexual harassment.

Peter Gutwein (centre) with Governor Kate Warner and Launceston Mayor Albert Van Zetten during an Aboriginal cultural dance performance in 2020.(ABC News: Damian McIntyre)

A commission of inquiry into child sex abuse came after months of damaging and horrific revelations about Ashley, the state’s public schools and the hospital system.

But Mr Gutwein can rightly lay claim to being the first leader of the state to take action in such important spaces.

With the pressures of the pandemic — and the dissolution of parliament for the early state election — legislative change was a little thinner on the ground.

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Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein announces his resignation from politics.

Reforms to political donation laws, promised under the former premier Will Hodgman, are yet to materialize, while contentious legislation locking in tax breaks for poker machines operated by casino giant Federal Group did make it through the parliament.

Whoever next leads the state — likely current Deputy Premier Jeremy Rockliff — will have to do the hard yards to actually deliver on Mr Gutwein’s many big promises.

They will also have to manage a great loss of talent, smarts and parliamentary experience when he formally tenders his resignation, and inherit a host of long-running (and in some cases, worsening) issues in health, housing and education.

All that without a skilled treasurer at the helm, and freshly-minted MPs in Lara Alexander and whoever is elected to Bass.

As well, the new Premier can take heed from Mr Gutwein’s mistakes.

A man with a bald head stands at a podium and smiles
Peter Gutwein won the 2021 election with a strong personal vote in his electorate of Bass.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Mr Gutwein appeared big on ideas but often fell short on consultation.

He effectively abolished the department of communities — shifting responsibility for spiky areas like child protection to the Education Department — reportedly without alerting the secretary or relevant unions.

Huge reforms were made to TasTAFE, bizarrely without bringing the teachers’ union into the tent.

Ashley’s closure was decided without a meeting of the cabinet.

He gained a reputation among colleagues as a micromanager and a lone wolf, consulting mostly with trusted adviser and chief of staff Andrew Finch.

This was evident as recently as last week, when Mr Gutwein revealed his office had negotiated a $250,000 grant for the JackJumpers, despite having a sports minister on deck.

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein listens as Dr Mark Veitch speaks at coronavirus briefing.
Peter Gutwein listens as Tasmania’s director of public health Mark Veitch speaks at a COVID briefing in 2020.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

Mr Gutwein’s strong stance on the borders won him praise for the first 18 months of the pandemic and he will be long remembered for his decisive, firm leadership on COVID-19.

But with cases climbing, and outside a state of emergency, the shine was starting to wear off.

When Will Hodgman left the state’s parliament a mere two years ago political observers struggled to see how anyone could fill his shoes.

But the last 48 hours show nothing can be taken for granted in politics.

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