Monday, July 27, 2020

Joan Rylah Resignation And Replacement

Another unusual casual vacancy in the Tasmanian House of Assembly with today's news that Braddon MHA Joan Rylah is resigning from parliament, 17 months after returning on a recount.  Rylah previously served in the 2014-8 parliament after being elected in the Liberals' unusual 4/5 seat result in Braddon at the 2014 election.  She was fairly narrowly defeated by fellow Liberal Roger Jaensch in the 2018 race for what was now a third seat, with Labor winning two.

This resignation is being marketed as being timed to give the remaining Liberal candidate Felix Ellis time to establish himself in the leadup to the next election.  That makes perfect sense, since MHAs elected at recounts often do struggle to build sufficient profile for re-election and need time to do it in.  However, the resignation also follows a significant gaffe in which Rylah threatened to blockade Bunnings if they didn't stock timber from native forest logging.  Aside from being not exactly respectful of business freedom, this flew in the face of her Government's persistent attempts to outlaw obstructive protesting from the other side of the forestry wars.  Indeed, she would have breached laws (albeit currently inoperative) that she had previously voted for.   Perhaps criticism of this gaffe brought forward or crystallised a decision to stand down, or perhaps the fact that it was made at all indicates that Rylah was already preparing for life after parliament.

Since the 1922 introduction of Hare-Clark "recounts" (which would be better known as countbacks, but recount is the term in legislation), this is the first time in which a member elected on a recount has vacated a seat causing another recount.  However, the same situation occurs sometimes at local council level.  For the first time part 5 of Schedule 6 springs into action and the papers to be recounted are those for "the member in whose place the vacating member was elected", ie the recount is of Adam Brooks' original votes, rather than just Joan Rylah's votes from Brooks' recount.  The votes included will be overwhelmingly Adam Brooks primary votes, plus a downweighted sample of votes that were 1 Jeremy Rockliff 2 Brooks.  It matters not, as Felix Ellis is the only eligible Liberal candidate remaining, and will nominate, and the flow of votes within the Liberal grouping will be so strong that Ellis will win very easily.  He'll probably get over 80% of the vote.

The vacancy again highlights one of the weaknesses of the 25-seat House - a shortage of replacements for casual vacancies.  Already, the Liberals are out of spare candidates in Lyons, so if one of the three sitting Lyons MPs vacated their seats, they would need Jane Howlett to resign her upper house seat if they wanted to be sure of having a Liberal replacement.  Otherwise they could either allow the recount to go ahead (electing someone from another party who would then presumably be encouraged to join the Government) or they could use the never-used Section 232 option: a single-seat by-election.

Now in Braddon, the Government will be in a similar situation for the rest of its term.  They will be out of spare candidates, so if one of the three sitting Braddon MPs then vacates for whatever reason, their options would seem limited to a recount or a by-election.  Except I think there is another option: Rylah, having not been elected at the 2018 election and hence not disqualified under 227 (1) (b), might be eligible to contest any further recount that might arise in Braddon down the track.  That is, assuming some disaster left the Liberals in desperate need of someone to fill the seat until the next election.  Adam Brooks cannot return on a recount in this term because he was elected at the original election.

Rylah is the fourth government MP to resign in this term, following Adam Brooks, Rene Hidding and former Premier Will Hodgman.  This is the most resignations from a government since the 1972-6 term in which Premier Eric Reece and five other Labor MPs resigned at various points.  But none of the government resignations have negatively affected the balance of power in the parliament, unlike Labor's sole resignation (Scott Bacon), which has had a massive impact through the election of Madeleine Ogilvie, who now sits as a generally pro-government independent.  The total number of resignations from the parliament (5) is the highest since the same number resigned in the 1992-6 term.  Bearing in mind the reduction in the size of parliament in 1998, the last time there were so many vacancies as a share of the parliament was 1992-6 (7/35).  However, because Rylah was herself a replacement, the proportion of original MPs still there is for the moment higher in this parliament than at the end of that one.

A further restriction on the government's options is likely to further fuel speculation about a possible early election, which I discussed here.  That said, the arrival of a new MP is an argument against a new election, as it will deprive him of time to build profile.  On the other hand, Braddon is probably not the most competitive seat at present, and Rylah's deleted social media comments would not have played well on the campaign trail.

I will have live coverage of the Legislative Council elections for Huon and Rosevears here from 6 pm Saturday.  


  1. It seems like a party that will pick up 3 or 4 seats in a given electorate should run more than 5 candidates at the state election. I guess they wouldn't do that so long as voters only have to number 1-5 (because voters could exhaust in a party column), so would it be possible/advisable to change the rules so voters have to number 1-6?

  2. Labor ran more than 5 frequently in the early years of the 25-seat system but seem to have over time concluded that it's generally a bad idea because of exhaust risks. The number of boxes required could be increased by legislation to encourage parties to run more candidates, but this would result in an increase in the informal voting rate (especially the first time) unless savings provisions were added. The savings provision would work similar to the one in the Senate - the ballot paper would instruct candidates to number at least 6 boxes, but in practice votes that were only 1-5 would still be counted.