Speaker Tony Smith has announced July 4 for the byelection in the Labor NSW seat of Eden-Monaro, which will be the first electoral test between Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese.
For health reasons this will coincide with the start of schools holidays, usually not thought ideal timing for elections or byelections.
Smith said in a Monday statement: “In normal circumstances, the Australian Electoral Commission advises it is preferable not to have elections during school holidays. With the current challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic, the advice is different on this occasion.”
Smith said the AEC had consulted extensively, including with the NSW education department, because of the number of polling places which were at schools.
“As a result, the AEC has advised me it is preferable to have a polling date where students and staff do not return to school on the very next Monday. This will then enable a thorough sanitising clean after the completion of voting and counting at polling booths in NSW schools”.
Smith also said he was delaying issuing the writ until Thursday to give the AEC extra time, which will enable it to consult stakeholders about the byelection’s conduct during this time.
Both the ALP and the Liberal party are fielding women candidates with strong roots in the electorate. The Liberals have just endorsed Fiona Kotvojs, a small businesswoman and farmer, who ran Labor’s Mike Kelly very close at the last election. The seat is now on a margin of just under 1%, and has become vacant with the resignation of Kelly on health grounds.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has already been campaigning extensively with Labor’s candidate Kristy McBain, who has stepped aside as mayor of Bega to contest the seat.
Both sides are putting jobs at the centre of their campaigns.
Morrison, appearing with Kotvojs on Sunday, said “job-making is honestly what this byelection is going to be about”.
The revelation that a wrong treasury forecast means JobKeeper will cost $60 billion less than the original $130 billion estimate has given Labor greater opportunity to campaign in the seat on that program, which it says should be broadened to a range of people now excluded. The government has rejected this.
The plight of the local tourist industry will also be a squeaky wheel in the campaign, as will bushfire recovery, with complaints about aid flowing too slowly. The royal commission into the fires is currently underway.
Labor will home in on climate change, in the context of the devastating summer experience.
Kotvojs went out of her way on Sunday “to make clear my position on climate change”.
“I believe that the climate is changing. I believe that humans contribute to that changing climate and I believe that we need to have a reduction in emissions, that we need to look at approaches to be adaptive and to have our communities resilient. … We’re on target to reducing emissions”.
Last year Kotvojs, who is a development specialist with experience working across the Pacific, wrote an article disputing that climate change was a threat to these countries with rising sea levels.
“The main cause of erosion on these islands is not sea level rise. Instead it is the construction of poorly designed boat ramps and boat channels, seawalls and reclamation works,” she wrote.
“The population of Tuvalu will be destroyed by diabetes long before the island is drowned by a rising sea level”.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra