Tasmania’s Liberal Premier has called a state election for May 1, days after his government’s numbers plunged into a minority with the exit of outspoken Speaker Sue Hickey.
The election – which was due to be held by May 2021 – will be brought forward after the state government was plunged into minority when Speaker Sue Hickey was sacked from the Tasmanian Liberals on March 21.
The election will be the first time Mr Gutwein faces voters as premier.
Mr Gutwein said at the press conference that now more than ever Tasmania needed a “strong, stable, majority government”.
“This morning I called on the governor and requested that an election be held for the house of assembly on the first of May,” he said.
“I did this because Tasmania can’t afford the uncertainty of the minority government.”
Party donations to be ‘voluntarily disclosed’
Mr Gutwein said the Legislative Council – upper house – elections will proceed on the same date.
He also said the Liberal Party would commit to voluntarily disclosing its donations within two days throughout the campaign because the promised electoral donations reforms are yet to be brought to parliament.
“The Liberal Party has agreed voluntarily to disclose within two business days all donations received for the state campaign exceeding $5,000.
“I would hope that other parties would likewise voluntarily disclose thresholds and amounts themselves,” he said.
Peter Gutwein’s rise to power
Mr Gutwein became Tasmania’s 46th premier in January 2020 after Will Hodgman announced his intention to resign from politics altogether.
Mr Gutwein was first elected to State Parliament as a Bass MHA in 2002 and has been a member of the Liberal Party’s frontbench for almost the entirety of his parliamentary career, apart for a five-month period where he was demoted for crossing the floor in December 2003.
The former financial planner who worked for former federal minister Jocelyn Newman became Mr Hodgman’s treasurer after the Liberal Party’s 2014 election victory.
After Mr Hodgman’s announcement, Mr Gutwein and fellow Liberal minister Michael Ferguson both announced their intention to run for premier, but Mr Ferguson’s withdrawal from the party room ballot meant Mr Gutwein was elected by the party unopposed.
In poll position
Mr Gutwein’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has resonated with voters, with polling conducted by EMRS showing that he was the preferred premier for 61 per cent of Tasmanians in February, up from 39 per cent in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.
His rating is more than double that of Opposition Leader Rebecca White, who was nominated as preferred premier by 26 per cent of Tasmanians in the latest EMRS polling.
The polls aren’t as flattering for his party, but 52 per cent of voters polled in February said they supported the Liberal Party, the same result recorded in November 2020.
Support for the Labor Party has been under 30 per cent since last March and was at 27 per cent in February.
The latest EMRS poll showed 14 per cent of respondents supported the Greens, with a further seven per cent nominating another option.
How did we get here?
Mr Gutwein has long maintained he intended to see out a full term, but his language shifted following his State of the State address, which included a raft of new funding announcements.
He also accepted recommendations from the Premier’s Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council around turning TasTafe into a government business enterprise, and council reform.
The next day Mr Gutwein said he’d call an election when Tasmania needed one, fuelling speculation of an early election, and then followed up that weekend by informing Speaker Sue Hickey she would not be preselected for the seat of Clark.
Ms Hickey promptly quit the party after being notified of the decision, plunging the Liberal Party into minority government and providing it with a fitting excuse for an early ballot.