The Liberal Party has won an historic third term in Tasmania, but ongoing vote counting is still to determine if Premier Peter Gutwein will govern with a majority.
With more than half of the state’s votes counted, the Liberals are expected to win at least 12 seats, one short of a majority in the state’s 25-member lower house.
Mr Gutwein has vowed to quit if he is unable to secure a majority – meaning another Liberal could lead Tasmania if the government fails to secure that 13th seat.
Confident he would continue to lead, Mr Gutwein told supporters in the tally room on Saturday night that while “there’s some counting to be done” a majority “appears increasingly likely”.
“It would be an absolute honour and a privilege to be given that opportunity by the Tasmanian people,” he said.
The premier had called the election a year ahead of schedule in a bid to capitalise on high approval ratings stemming from coronavirus management.
The government also campaigned on economic success while Labor ran heavily on health and housing.
Mr Gutwein said decisions during the pandemic – like locking down Tasmania and closing borders to the rest of the nation – were “among the hardest things I’ve had to do”.
He also promised to improve Tasmania’s hospital system.
“I have never been more positive about our state’s future than I am right now,” Mr Gutwein said.
“And I have never been more certain that our state’s best days are still in front of us.”
Earlier, Labor leader Rebecca White had recognised her party’s hopeless position and conceded defeat in a telephone call to Mr Gutwein at around 10pm.
“It’s clear that we have fallen short of our goal to win majority Labor government,” she told the Hobart tally room on Saturday night.
“I rang Peter Gutwein to congratulate him on his re-election and his impressive personal result.
“All around the country we have seen incumbent governments rewarded for their management of COVID-19 and there is no doubt that Peter Gutwein and our public health officials kept our community safe, and tonight’s result reflects that.”
🇦🇺#Australia, Tasmania state election results (61,9 % counted) :
— World Elects (@ElectsWorld) May 1, 2021
ABC election analyst Antony Green had predicted victory for the Liberals.
“After this election, there will be a Liberal government,” he told ABC TV on Saturday night.
“Whether it’s Peter Gutwein leading it and whether it’s the Liberal government in majority or minority – but there’s no other government in that chamber.”
The Greens also appear to have gained ground and are optimistic of picking up an extra seat, boosting their tally to three.
State party leader Cassy O’Connor has held her seat in the Hobart-based electorate of Clark, as has incumbent Rosalie Woodruff in Franklin.
“We think there is a swing on. That’s the feeling we got when we talked to Tasmanians all over the state,” she said from a party function at a Hobart pub, adding she felt “quietly hopeful”.
The Greens’ vote has been on the decline in recent elections. It held five seats in 2010 but won just two at the last election 2018.
Late on Saturday night the Greens were showing a positive swing of almost three per cent.
Liberal defector in trouble
Capturing one of the two in-doubt Clark seats would deliver the Liberals a majority, while independent success could give rise to a kingmaker.
Surveying the numbers late on Saturday, Antony Green said the odds were shortening on the Liberals gaining the additional seat needed for a majority.
“It’s hard to see how the Liberal don’t win that,” he said.
Mr Gutwein called the election after Sue Hickey quit the Liberals, plunging the government into a minority. Late on Saturday night the count was going against her holding one of the two undecided Clark seats.
There are 392,000 registered voters in Tasmania and more than 105,000 pre-poll or postal votes were cast.
Independent upper house MP Meg Webb said the major parties’ refusal to entertain a minority government was a slap in the face to the Tasmanian people.
“It’s worse than turning their back, it’s actually childish,” she told Sky News.
“It’s a tantrum approach to democracy.”