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Tasmania: analysts predict the ALP will win Saturday's election and the Greens could possibly capture three seats.

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JOHN HIGHFIELD: Tasmanians go to the poll this Saturday in the first state election since the federal coalition won its way back to power last year. Analysts are predicting that the Labor Party and Premier, Jim Bacon, will win the poll, but the Greens could gain something, possibly capturing up to three seats. The only controversy to rock the state government over the past month or so of campaigning has been the revelation of undisclosed loans to a private tourist rail operator up on the west coast. This has given the Liberal Party an opportunity to attack, claiming that the Labor Party has been secret and somewhat sneaky, but most voters seem to be more concerned with Tasmania’s perennial issues for elections—jobs and forests. Our report comes from Nicole Johnston in Hobart.


NICOLE JOHNSTON: Tasmanian Liberal Leader, Bob Cheek, outlined the key election issue at the party’s campaign launch, and as the Liberal’s theme music states, the party is chasing the holy grail of politics. To win they need to convince voters they can create more jobs than Labor can. Tasmania has the highest unemployment rate in Australia, 8.3 per cent, compared with the national figure of 6.3. However, the number of jobless people in Tasmania has actually dropped 2 per cent over the past four years. It is a figure the state government has touted as evidence of its success creating jobs, but ANZ chief economist, Saul Eslake, says the number of people looking for work in Tasmania has fallen because people have given up searching.


SAUL ESLAKE: The employment performance has been disappointing taking the last four years as a whole. By comparison, though, the government can point to a range of other economic indicators in which Tasmania has done relatively well, and I think the government’s forecast in the most recent budget of 4,000 or more increase in employment is achievable given the outlook for growth in Tasmania’s economy, and, in particular, the strong pick-up in business investment that now seems to be in prospect in the state.


NICOLE JOHNSTON: Construction has started on a $440 million natural gas pipeline across Bass Strait. A $500 million undersea electricity project called Basslink is waiting final government approval, and a $200 million wind farm is being developed in the state’s north. Premier Jim Bacon told supporters at the party’s campaign launch: ‘This is why Labor should be returned to office.’


JIM BACON: Today you can see the gas pipeline being laid, bringing natural gas to our homes and industries in Tasmania. This project unlocks potentially hundreds of manufacturing jobs in the renewable energy industry.


NICOLE JOHNSTON: But Opposition Leader, Bob Cheek, says Labor has failed to lift the state to the national employment average.


BOB CHEEK: The Labor government, after nearly four years, have created just 600 jobs. Our participation rate is the worst for 18 years. People have simply given up looking for work.


NICOLE JOHNSTON: The timing of the July election was a month earlier than predicted. The government didn’t have to go to the polls until November, leading some critics to suggest Labor wanted the election over before any other Tasmanian businesses collapsed. Already this year, the state’s major meat processor, Blue Ribbon, has been forced into administration losing 400 jobs and owing farmers more than $2 million. Ship builder, International Catamarans, has also laid off hundreds of workers, and only one week into the election campaign, Australia’s biggest salmon producer, TASSAL, was taken over by administrators, threatening the job security of hundreds of Tasmanian workers.


But will voters remember this on Saturday? Political analyst, Richard Herr.


RICHARD HERR: That is the $64,000 question for the government. The government has, in fact, been a good news government for the most part. The bad news doesn’t seem to have stuck but, for the government, if they lose support going into this last vital week, it may be that the recent set of bad news is reviving some older memories of a string of unfortunate developments over the last few years and it may rebound to the success of the opposition.


NICOLE JOHNSTON: Chief Executive of Tasmania’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Damon Thomas, says businesses have the choice between a Liberal jobs policy which opposes 24-hour shop trading and reduces business taxes and charges, or Labor which is pinning its job creation targets on existing projects.


DAMON THOMAS: On the one hand, they have seen the start of the gas project with the laying of gas pipeline across Bass Strait. They have seen some job creation already with wind power and the development in Woolnorth. They are yet to see Basslink and it will be some time before Basslink comes on line. For the Liberal, the opposition, they have said: ‘We will give money to both start a business or to put on new people’. The difficulty is that is untested.


NICOLE JOHNSTON: The latest opinion poll shows the Tasmanian Labor Party winning 15 seats, the Liberals 10, and a swing to the Greens with the party taking up to three seats.


JOHN HIGHFIELD: Nicole Johnston reporting for us in Hobart.


And my apologies to South Australians, of course. I forgot that Mike Rann, after the federal election, took power away from the coalition there and Labor won the South Australian election, of course, prior to this one in Tasmania.