The Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly, Jonathan O’Dea, has today announced that by-elections will be held for four vacant seats on Saturday 12 February.
Writs will be issued this coming Friday 21 January with rolls closing the same day. A closing date for nominations has yet to be announced.
The four seats (with links to my guide pages at the ABC Elections site) are –
- Bega (LIB 6.9%) – the seat of former Transport Minister Andrew Constance who has resigned and been selected as the Liberal candidate for the Federal seat of Gilmore.
- Monaro (NAT 11.6%) – the seat of former Nationals Leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro. He announced his resignation shortly after Gladys Berejiklian resigned as Premier.
- Strathfield (ALP 5.0%) – the seat of former Labor Leader Jodi McKay.
- Willoughby (LIB 21.0%) – the seat of former Premier Gladys Berejiklian who resigned after being called to give evidence in an ICAC inquiry.
A suggested fifth by-election in Holsworthy will not be held. Liberal MP Melanie Gibbons has announced she will resign if she wins pre-selection for the local Federal seat of Hughes. At this stage no pre-selection has been held so Gibbons has not resigned. It is not clear she has the numbers to win pre-selection.
Can these by-election put the government’s majority at risk?
The Coalition was re-elected in 2019 with an overall majority of three seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Coalition won 48 seats, Labor 36 with nine members on the crossbench – three Independents, three Greens and three from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party.
Accusations have seen two Liberal members move to the crossbench so the government is now technically in minority, though good relations with the crossbench mean the government’s hold on office is not threatened.
Even if Labor were to win the three seats held by government members, Labor would not be in a position to bring down the Perrottet government. The numbers would shift to government 43, Labor 39 and 11 on the crossbench. There would not be enough crossbench members willing to back Labor to replace the Coalition in office. The crossbench would be required to back a Labor government on almost every vote to maintain it in office.
NSW has fixed term parliaments with strict ‘baton change’ rules that must be followed for a change of government or an early election.
To bring down a government via a constitutional vote of no confidence, three clear days notice must be given and the government must accept the debate. If defeated, there are then eight days in which either the government, or a replacement government, must receive a vote of confidence. Only if a new government cannot be formed is the Governor permitted to issue writs for an early election.
Alternatively, if the Assembly defeated or failed to pass a government’s Appropriations Bill (the budget), then writs for an early election could be issued.
Given the numbers in the Assembly, it seems unlikely that the cross bench would support the use of the above measures to bring down the government.
There will be great interest in the results given how close we are to a Federal election.
Monaro lies in the marginal Labor seat of Eden-Monaro. Most of Bega is also in Eden-Monaro, though the northern end around where Andrew Constance lives in Batemans Bay is within Gilmore, the Federal seat that Andrew Constance will soon contest.
Much of Strathfield lies in the marginal Liberal seat of Reid, so again there will be interest in Federal implications.
I will provide a full coverage of the results for the ABC on 12 February and in the days that follow.
Will iVote be Used?
The NSW Electoral Commission had difficulties with its iVote system at the local government elections last December.
iVote was designed as a replacement for postal voting given the very short time frames in which NSW elections are conducted.
The problem was, the government permitted iVote to be used for Absent voting at the local government elections. This created a massive election day load on the system, much greater than had been planned in the system’s design.
The NSW Electoral Commissioner has stated he does not currently have the confidence to use iVote until its problems last December can be explained, and until the Commission has enough resources, in particular staff, to support its operation. You can read the Commissioner’s statement here.
This means that postal voting will have greater use at the by-election with iVote unavailable. To allow time for postal votes to be sent out and returned, it is likely that there will be an early date announced for close of nominations.