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Legislative Council Election Deferral Should Have Been Dealt with by Parliament

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Sunday, 5 April 2020

Tags: Legislative Council, Democracy, Governance, COVID-19, Health

Cassy O'Connor MP | Greens Leader

The Greens recognise the strong public health grounds behind the Director of Public Health’s decision to use his powers under Section 5 of the Public Health Act to defer Legislative Council elections. 

It is a matter of real concern, however, this decision - which impacts on Tasmania’s democracy - was not dealt with by Parliament.

We repeatedly called for Parliament to delay the Legislative Council elections until it was safe for voters and Tasmanian Electoral Commission staff to undertake them.

Tasmanian Greens’ Convenor, Scott Jordan, wrote to the Electoral Commissioner on 16 March, calling for deferral.

Our Health and Justice spokesperson Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP, wrote to Attorney General, Elise Archer, on 23 March.

While we accept the need to delay the elections, we urge the Gutwein Government not to make a habit of allowing big democracy-impacting decisions without Parliamentary oversight.

The Attorney General says it is an aim to hold the Legislative Council elections before 25 August, but there’s enormous uncertainty about how much, if anything, will have changed in the need for physical distancing by then.

Tasmanians are likely to be living this reality for the foreseeable future. Our democratic institutions need to be robust enough to adapt and function.

In the absence of Parliament playing a role in the decision to defer the Huon and Rosevears elections, there has to be real clarity and openness about the process of what will happen from here, particularly given the likelihood physical distancing will still be a necessity on 25 August.

We welcome the Premier’s stated commitment to be open and transparent about decisions being made under the emergency powers Parliament gave his government on trust and those already considerable, necessary powers vested in the Director of Public Health.

There’s growing community concern to see Parliamentary oversight continue in this time of emergency.

Given the uncertainty over whether there’ll be any real change to physical distancing advice by August, the Tasmanian Parliament needs to find ways to meet electronically as a priority.