Tasmania will head to the polls for an early election after its Liberal government was plunged into minority.
Premier Peter Gutwein has announced the election, which was not due until May 2022, will be held on 1 May.
“I did this because Tasmania can’t afford the uncertainly of minority government,” he said on Friday.
“This election will be about who can deliver a strong, stable government to secure Tasmania’s future.”
However, opposition leader Rebecca White is due to give birth in June leading some to question whether the move was intended to capitalise on voters feeling uncomfortable electing a leader that would likely be out of action for a number of weeks immediately after the election.
When announcing the election Gutwien was asked by a reporter if “forcing a heavily pregnant woman to go into a long election campaign” was congruent with the current national conversation about respecting woman.
Gutwein replied that those questions “should be put to her”.
“I have given this a great deal of thought. Obviously an election later this year is completely out of the question,” he said.
“In late June, Ms White will be giving birth. I understand through July [she] will have a newborn child … Right now we are in a minority government situation. The election will be held on 1 May and this matter will be over one way or the other.”
The Liberal government entered minority earlier this week after Speaker Sue Hickey quit the party.
Hickey was told last weekend she would not be re-endorsed by the Liberals for the next election and is now operating as an independent.
Hickey sensationally claimed the speakership three years ago by voting with opposition parties and has crossed the floor on contentious issues.
This week she used parliamentary privilege to accuse federal Liberal senator Eric Abetz of “slut-shaming” Brittany Higgins, who alleges she was raped in Parliament House in Canberra.
Gutwein has hit back at the suggestion that he purposefully dumped Hickey in order to force his party into minority which would justify calling an election.
“The Speaker brought that on herself,” he said.
“This figure voted against the government on a number of occasions. The Speaker is now an independent. I don’t expect that behaviour to get any better under the circumstances we find ourselves in.”
The Liberals have 12 MPs in Tasmania’s 25-seat lower house, with Labor (nine) the Greens (two) and independents (two) making up the remainder.
Gutwein and the Liberals are riding a wave of support due to the government’s coronavirus response, which included a decision to shut the island’s borders early.
According to an EMRS survey of 1,000 people published in February, 61% of voters rate Gutwein as the preferred premier. Labor leader Rebecca White was on 26%.
The Liberals are the preferred party (52%) ahead of Labor (27%).
Gutwein took over as premier early last year after Will Hodgman’s shock decision to step down as leader midterm.
The Liberal government was returned for a second term in 2018, winning 13 of 25 seats.
It was the first time in 22 years a Liberal government had won a second consecutive term.