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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michael Lester, PhD candidate, University of Tasmania

Liberal premier Peter Gutwein’s resignation, less than a year into his second term, is a seismic shift in Tasmanian politics.

In typical fashion, Gutwein surprised everyone, announcing his resignation today – in his own time and on his own terms, seemingly out of nowhere.

He left saying he had held the “best job in the world”, but the responsibility had taken its toll and he had “nothing left in the tank”.

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From ‘hard man’ to soaring popularity

Gutwein, first elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly seat of Bass in 2002, quickly gained a reputation as a Liberal “hard man”.

As treasurer, he was part of the triumvirate with former Premier Will Hodgman, and current Deputy Premier Jeremy Rockliff, who broke a 16-year drought to propel the Liberals into government in 2014.

Gutwein became premier in January 2020 after Hodgman’s shock resignation. His popularity subsequently soared to 70% during 2020 due to his tough “no apologies” COVID response – famously leading to a headline that read: “We have a moat and we’re not afraid to use it”.

Then there was his refusal to bend to demands by the tourism industry and some of his federal Liberal colleagues to reopen the borders. Around the time of his resignation, his popularity as premier still sat at 52%.

Gutwein’s hardline approach with the AFL – insisting on progress towards a Tasmanian-based team before agreeing to continue subsidising Hawthorn and North Melbourne to play games in Tasmania – also resonated with the Tasmanian public.

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Hitting the wall

In 2020, Gutwein scoffed at suggestions he would cash in on his popularity and call an early election. But in March 2021 he did just that, announcing a May 1 election date – a year earlier than it was due.

As a result, the Liberals were returned for a record third term – having never previously won three elections back-to-back in Tasmania.

However, after leading the state’s response to COVID, fighting the election and handing down the state budget, Gutwein was taken to hospital in late August.

That followed what he described as “hitting the wall”, after working for 56 consecutive days – so perhaps today’s announcement should not have come as too much a surprise.

Lasting legacy

While Gutwein’s leadership during COVID most likely will be his lasting legacy, he also deserves credit as treasurer for economic management.

Tasmania’s economy continues to perform strongly relative to other states. In October last year, for example, CommSec rated the improvements in Tasmania’s economic performance as the best in the nation for the seventh quarter in a row.

The National Australia Bank monthly business survey and the Deloitte access economics outlook report for September 2021 also forecast Tasmania’s economy to grow the equal-fastest in the nation during the current financial year.

Gutwein, a social policy moderate, has led the way in pushing for a treaty with the Aboriginal community in Tasmania.

And in March, Gutwein revealed he was a victim of sexual assault as a 16-year-old, stating his support for victims in the Commission of Inquiry into child sexual abuse.

The question now is who will replace Gutwein as premier. His much respected deputy and health minister, Jeremy Rockliff, has shown no ambition to take the top job.

That leaves current minister for resources Guy Barnett and minister for state development, infrastructure and transport Michael Ferguson – both conservatives – as the frontrunners.

Gutwein’s resignation may also open the door for Labor under second-time-around leader Rebecca White, who recently enjoyed a minor resurgence in the polls.

The Conversation

Michael Lester was a political reporter and columnist in Tasmania for about 20 years and served as an adviser to Labor premier Jim Bacon between 1998 and 2002. In December 2021, he was awarded a PhD for research on minority government in Australia.

ref. ‘Nothing left in the tank’: resigning Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein deserves credit on COVID and economics –