This Saturday, Tasmanian electors in both ends of the state will head to the polls in a Legislative Council election unlike any other.
Polls for the seats of Huon, south of Hobart, and Rosevears, along the west Tamar, had been scheduled to take place in May this year before coronavirus derailed the election.
Three months later, voters will finally be afforded the chance to select their representatives in the Upper House for the next six years.
The retirement of long-serving Rosevears MLC Kerry Finch means there will be a new face in Tasmania’s Parliament.
Six candidates have thrown their hats into the ring to replace him; Greens candidate Jack Davenport, independent Janie Finlay, independent David Fry, independent Vivienne Gale, Labor’s Jess Greene, and Liberal candidate Jo Palmer.
Mr Finch has made it clear he would prefer an independent successor, in line with the traditional make-up of the Legislative Council.
Polling analyst Kevin Bonham said Ms Palmer — a virtual household name and former Nightly News 7 Tasmania newsreader — is widely expected to win, but would face a challenge from former Launceston mayor Janie Finlay.
“It’s a test of the Liberal candidate’s high profile and the Government’s positive reception for the handling of coronavirus on the one hand, versus on the other hand, the feeling for independents in the Upper House — if there is any,” Dr Bonham said.
“I think Janie Finlay is probably the most significant opponent because she has a high profile with local government.”
The division of Huon is a different story — incumbent Robert Armstrong, a conservative independent, is contesting the seat, and the Liberal Party has decided not to run against him.
However, Labor and the Greens are running candidates, which neither did in the previous 2014 poll.
There are six candidates in Huon; independent Debbie Louise Armstrong, incumbent Robert Armstrong, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate Garrick Cameron, Greens candidate Pat Caruana, independent Dean Harriss, and Labor’s Bastian Seidel.
According to constitutional law expert Brendan Gogarty, eligibility rules likely mean that if elected, Dr Seidel will need to extricate himself within six months from a 10-year contract his company, Huon Medical Group, signed with the State Government in 2018 to provide GP services on Bruny Island to prevent his election being void.
Labor has said if Dr Seidel is elected he will resign as the director of the Huon Valley Health Centre, where he is a well-known GP.
Dr Bonham said more often than not, contesting incumbents retained their seats.
“I would think that a lot of Liberal voters are going to be either backing in Armstrong or perhaps one of the other independents,” he said.
How has coronavirus changed the election?
Aside from altering the date, there are a number of other changes as a result of the pandemic.
Large numbers of people in both divisions have chosen to vote by post or prepoll rather than turn up to a polling station on Saturday — so far, 39.4 per cent of Huon electors have voted, and 41.4 per cent have already cast their ballots in Rosevears.
Tasmanian Electoral Commissioner Andrew Hawkey said there would be extra health and safety measures at polling places during the day.
“These will include markers on the floor, perspex screens between the person issuing the votes and electors receiving their ballot papers, separating of screens where people fill in their votes, plastic surfaces so we can clean that down between voters, and a hand sanitiser that people automatically use on the way in,” he said.
When will we know the result?
The additional coronavirus protection measures also mean figures are expected to begin coming in about 15 minutes later than usual when counting starts.
The high number of postal votes makes it unlikely there will be a result in either division on Saturday night.
The Tasmanian Electoral Commission has issued more than 22,000 postal votes for the election, compared with the usual 2,000-3,000 for each division per election.
As of Thursday evening, there were almost 2,000 postal ballots still outstanding, meaning it was unlikely preferences would be distributed before Tuesday, August 11.
“With such a large number and such reasonable fields, being six candidates in each division, the margin of difference between candidates we expect to be far lower than the outstanding possible return ballot papers,” Mr Hawkey said.
“We won’t be able to do any provisional distribution of preferences until we basically get to the end of the return of postal vote period.”