An urgent Bill introduced into the Queensland Parliament will allow the Minister for Local Government the opportunity to delay the quadrennial election, if the Minister is satisfied it would not be in the public interest for the election to be held.
With local government elections in Queensland scheduled for 28 March 2020, the unprecedented impact of the emerging COVID-19 virus has cast a degree of uncertainty on whether or not the election will proceed.
Requirements for social distancing, restrictions on gatherings and awareness of personal hygiene will no doubt deter many Queenslanders from visiting the polling booths. Already, we have seen an exceptionally high number of people pre-polling in major urban centres across the State, to avoid the crowds on election day.
The Public Health and Other Legislation (Public Health Emergency) Amendment Bill 2020 proposes a suite of amendments to a broad range of legislation, including the insertion of a new Part 9A into the Local Government Electoral Act 2011 (Qld) relevant to the quadrennial election for 2020. The amendments seek to minimise serious risks to the health and safety of persons caused by the public health emergency involving COVID-19.
Importantly, the amendments will allow the Minister to suspend the election by publishing a notice on the Electoral Commission’s website if, in consultation with the Electoral Commission, the Minister is satisfied that it would not be in the public interest for the election to be held.
The powers will also allow the Minister to:
- terminate the quadrennial election, if the suspension of the election is likely to compromise the outcome of the election, and it would be practicable to hold a new election;
- provide for the poll for the election to be conducted by postal ballot;
- allow for a class of electors to cast an electronically assisted vote; and
- regulate, limit or prevent the distribution or display of how-to-vote cards or other election material.
Whether or not the Minister is required to exercise any of the new powers, time will only tell. What is certain is that the Coronavirus pandemic will continue to cause social and business disruption well beyond the scheduled 28 March local government election.
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