Friday, March 26, 2021

Tasmanian Snap Election? Early Elections and Majority vs Minority

Following the resignation of Sue Hickey from the Liberal Party, placing the Gutwein Government into minority, there have been strong rumours since Wednesday afternoon of a May 1 snap election.  Whether or not the election is actually called for this date or soon, I thought it would be interesting to cover some of the history.

The resignation of Sue Hickey from the Liberal Party presents no clear threat to confidence in the government.  Hickey has promised continued confidence in the government in the absence of "corruption", but notwithstanding her definition of "corruption" or whether the government can trust her, they presently have another confidence vote if needed from Madeleine Ogilvie.  So I classify this as an unforced early election.

However, the spectacle of recent days and the constant goading that losing a majority brings would be unappealling for the Government.  It seems most likely that the Government brought on Hickey's departure having already decided to go to an election ASAP, perhaps inspired by the example of the McGowan government which has been massively re-elected and which has followed a similar COVID-19 storyline to Tasmania.  There is however one major difference between Tasmania and WA: federal drag.  In the absence of COVID-19, McGowan's government would have been expected to increase its majority anyway (though not by as much as it has), while Gutwein's would have been expected to go backwards.

Early elections

An election in May would be ten months early, the next election being "due" in March 2022, though in theory the government could go as late as 14 May 2022.

Tasmania does not have fixed terms and early elections have happened fairly often.  At one stage Tasmania had five-year terms but the last government to serve more than four years was the Reece/Neilson government (1972-6).  I believe it was under Reece that terms were reduced to four years. Bill Neilson was re-elected with a majority of one seat but his successor Doug Lowe went to a very early election in 1979 after just over two and a half years.  Lowe was re-elected with an increased majority.  The history of subsequent elections is:

1982 (Holgate): forced early election (government collapsed)
1986 (Gray): 3 months early, re-elected
1989 (Gray): 9 months early, defeated
1992 (Field): forced early election (government collapsed)
1996 (Groom): full term
1998 (Rundle): semi-forced early election (government about to collapse).  The government had agreed with the opposition to reduce the size of parliament, a move unpalatable to the Greens who were expected to bring it down in response if it continued
2002 (Bacon): 1 month early, re-elected
2006 (Lennon): 4 months early, re-elected
2010 (Bartlett): full term
2014 (Giddings): full term
2018 (Hodgman): full term

Unforced early elections that are more than six months early have been rare.  

Majority vs minority

The last government to go to an election in minority and win was Eric Reece's in 1964.  This is the only case since the number of seats in the parliament became an odd number.  Since then, all governments that went to an election in minority have been defeated (1972, 1982, 1992, 1998, 2014).  Two of the nine governments that went to an election in majority have also lost (1969, 1989).  The current Government is the first to lose its majority during a term since the Lowe/Holgate government did so in 1981 - two other governments in that time have lost their majority at an election but continued in office (1996, 2010).  I do not claim this history to be any kind of predictive precedent for this election given the COVID-19 circumstances.  

Election month

The last three governments to go to elections in May (1969, 1982, 1989) were all defeated.  However several earlier governments were re-elected in this month (1919, 1922, 1931, 1950, 1959, 1964), some more convincingly than others.  Any idea that going to an election in the colder months in Tasmania is in and of itself a bad idea was debunked by Jim Bacon's win in July 2002 in one of our more lopsided elections.

Legislative Council clash

Legislative Council elections are scheduled for May 1 in three seats (Windermere, Derwent and Mersey).  However these can and should be moved to a different Saturday in May without legislation.  Although I am not aware of any law preventing them from being held on the same day, it has never been done in the past.

I will add more notes through the day as events require.  

10:30 It's On!

Premier sighted at Government House - we should have an announcement shortly.

Update: Yes there is an election for May 1. At this stage no word about moving the Legislative Council elections so they may actually be on the same day (but we'll see).  I will be unrolling a guide page later today and electorate guides over the weekend.

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  1. The ABC article has been updated - "Mr Gutwein said the Legislative Council — Upper House — elections will proceed on the same date."

    It'll be interested to see what affect this has on LC voting patterns. It's going to confuse a lot of people on the borders of the LC areas who don't pay attention to politics, seeing someone's name on corflute signs but then finding they aren't on their HA ballet paper.

    I wonder if there is a much of a cost saving to the AEC by having them both on the same day...

    1. It's the TEC not the AEC. I expect there would be cost savings. It might actually increase the Legislative Council turnout. I expect there will be confusion but presumably voters are going to be given two ballot papers at once as with federal House/Senate contests. The overlapping boundaries will make things awkward.

  2. If the Government is holding both elections on the same night then it should be mandatory for them to provide a cloning machine so that Kevin can cover both votes for our pleasure without being ran off his feet!

    1. I second this motion. Really in general there need to be about five of me.

  3. If Josh Willie runs for Clark can he remain in leg co until he wins or loses or does he need to quit leg co before running

    1. He needs to quit first. So I am not sure if there's potential for a by-election for his LegCo seat to be held on the same day too.

  4. My prediction Bass: 3 Lib, 2 Lab Braddon: 4 Lib, 1 Lab Lyons: 3 Lib, 2 Lab Clark: 2 Lib, 1 Lab, 1 Grn, 1 Ind Franklin: 2 Lib 2 Lab 1 Grn
    Overall: 14/8/2/1

  5. Hi Kevin. Do sitting Councillors have to resign in order to contest a state election? It would be a big risk for Johnston.

    I've also heard that Cr Jax Ewin is planning to run.

    1. No, though Johnston has said she will quit as Mayor at the end of her term if she doesn't get elected to state parliament. Sitting councillors can run for state parliament without quitting their seats. If they win they must resign from one or the other level within a year, or else they automatically cease to be a councillor.

    2. Johnston intensively campaigned in last forced Glenorchy Council election on the need for a total cleanout, and succeeded.

      Subsequently there have been asset sales not previously announced and worse, no explanation of resolution of the Auditor-General's adverse finding re tender splitting in the previous Council. As a ratepayer I still await that and suggest that Johnston might still have unfinished business in an important Council role.

      My suspicion though, is that ambition is overtaking the Council stepping stone.

    3. Following my above comment, there is also Auditor General's reporting around LGA performances:

      Interesting to note that the A-G's findings for Glenorchy contradict every claim of the sacked council being bankrupt and etc. A further finding was that the steep rates rise early in Ms Johnston's mayoralty was found to be unjustified.

      I haven't noticed that news coming from her Council or in my rates.

      Awaiting the glossy pamphlet deluge to correct such delusions.

      I recall that Mr Gutwein was the minister responsible for the move to sack the previous Council, perhaps he'll explain everything.

  6. my guess is libs have to win 3rd seat in lyons to get 13/majority
    wonder what key issues are for lyons voters? can they be bribed/bought off with infrastructure promises.?

  7. An unforced early snap election during the pandemic is cynical and opportunistic.
    Moreso because the vaccine rollout issues remain problematic, and because Tasmania's health system is flaky and stressed anyhow.
    As usual we are seeing little analysis or discussion; expect PR and cultivated apathy to dominate our governance once again.

  8. Adding to my former post, we are NOT out of the pandemic and careful management is still important. The vaccine rollout appears to in some disarray and I note that private pharmacists are advertising vaccine options on commercial TV. That pharmacy suggests that anyone is eligible IF they have an underlying medical condition (but without thresholds or details).
    I believe that the rollout should be properly managed and prioritised and not a race. This, incidentally includes the international rollout not the subject here.
    It is unclear to me why a prudent technique like wastewater surveillance was implemented at many sites in Victoria at least six months ago, but we may soon? This is particularly so in view of tentative reopening of tourism and travel.
    We deserve explanations from our leaders in these matters.
    The early snap election can hardly be justified in this context in my view.

  9. Further irony today in that Fed. Govt.'s Littleproud describes vaccine rollout as "major logistical exercise" on ABC redio while we still have State Govt. NOT explaining why the disruptive early snap election is a good idea.