Council elections forge ahead despite misgivings


QUEENSLAND will forge ahead with this weekend's council and state by-elections on the advice of health experts.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday held firm on elections for the state's 77 councils proceeding, as the Electoral Commission of Queensland again insisted that voting was compulsory.

A poll of more than 1700 people yesterday showed 85 per cent did not believe the council elections should go ahead, while NSW has already cancelled its local government elections scheduled for September.

The Premier said the health advice was "very clear" and that Queensland's Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said it was safe for the elections to go ahead with new measures put in place.

A record 800,000 Queenslanders have already voted early at pre-poll booths, while the ECQ says more than 570,000 postal vote applications have also been sent out to voters.

But some voters complained yesterday that they were unable to contact the ECQ over the phone, and that they were yet to receive their requested postal voting material.

Dr Young last night said she believed the election would be safe, as long as people followed specific guidelines - including social distancing, bringing along a pencil and voting before election day if possible.



Health Minister Steven Miles said the advice from Dr Young was that the elections could, and should, proceed.

He said given the amount of early voting, the Government expected very few people to need to vote on the actual polling day on Saturday.

"But we've put steps in place to address those that are, including social distancing at the polling booths, including asking people to bring pens," Mr Miles said.

"If you think about the fact that there will be a large number of booths right across the state (and) a low number of people voting on the day, the risks associated are very low and low compared to other things that people will continue to do in their daily lives, such as do their grocery shopping."

The ECQ has introduced a range of health and safety measures to address the risks, including urging voters to bring their own pen and pencil and ensuring that voters keep a 1.5m distance from others.

It has also increased cleaning at polling booths, and has banned the distribution of how-to-vote cards and election materials and offered phone voting to those in isolation.

NSW Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock announced yesterday that the state would postpone its September council elections for a year to "ensure the health and safety of voters" as well as electoral staff and candidates.



Local Government Association of Queensland chief executive Greg Hallam said he trusted the commonsense of Queenslanders.

"We have confidence in the advice and leadership of Queensland's Chief Health Officer and Electoral Commissioner in making these decisions and will continue to follow their advice," he said.

"Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has rightly stated the enhanced safety precautions being taken at polling booths ensure voting poses no greater risk than shopping for groceries or undertaking other essential tasks."

Arriving with their own pencils and hand sanitisers, voters at City Hall were yesterday met with coloured tape on the floor marking the acceptable distance to stand away from others while every second booth was blocked off to avoid breaching the social distancing rules.

Melinda Ranson said she decided to vote ahead of Saturday to reduce the stress for others on the weekend.

"It (voting) was very quick and everyone was very respectful of each other in terms of the necessary measures that we're taking at the moment," she said. "If I've got the opportunity (to vote early) I might as well do it."


Pre-poll voters practise social distancing at Brisbane City Hall. Picture: Liam Kidston
Pre-poll voters practise social distancing at Brisbane City Hall. Picture: Liam Kidston


Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner said leniency for non-voters would be "fair and reasonable".

"State authorities need to show some heart and stop threatening non-voters with fines," he said. "People who are unwell should stay at home. People who are afraid or at risk should stay at home."

The national deputy chief medical health officer Paul Kelly said that from a health perspective, there would be a potential for a mixing event.

"So first thing - anyone who is sick should not be going to vote, at least in person," he said, noting that it was a decision for the State Government.

"Second of all - people should keep their distance.

"Third of all … if the voting area is full of people, perhaps come back later."

Additional reporting Matt Killoran & Cloe Read






Originally published as Council elections forge ahead despite misgivings

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