SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s state of Tasmania has returned the conservative Tasmanian Liberals to office with a clear majority in an election fought largely on jobs and poker machines.
The southern state, an island the size of Sri Lanka with a population of 519,000, went to the polls on Saturday with decisive results apparent before midnight.
The Liberals had held 15 seats in Tasmania’s 25-seat House of Assembly going into Saturday’s election and secured the 13 seats they needed for majority government. That was despite the opposition Tasmanian Labor party picking up an extra three seats after campaigning strongly against poker machines which it had vowed to remove from pubs and clubs by 2023.
Premier Will Hodgman of the Tasmanian Liberals had set a target to reduce Tasmania’s unemployment rate to the lowest in the country by 2022 if re-elected. In his victory speech to the tally room late on Saturday night he said Tasmanians had voted for “no change”.
“I’m so proud of what we have done to kick-start an economy and to create jobs for 10,000 more Tasmanians, for Tasmania’s unemployment rate to be the second lowest of any state in the country, and for Tasmanian businesses to be the most confident of any state in the country. To have got our budget back from deficits into surpluses,” Hodgman said in the speech.
Opposition leader Rebecca White of Tasmanian Labor said the state-wide swing back to Labor had put the Liberal government on notice that they had to make decisions to benefit the people “and not somebody’s rich mate”.
She criticised the gaming industry’s relationship with the Liberals, saying their election campaign was the “most well-resourced” in Tasmania’s election history.
“It should not be the case that you can buy a seat in the Tasmanian parliament.”
A controversy over gun laws in Tasmania erupted on the eve of the election, after the contents of a Liberal Party member of parliament’s letter to firearms owners promising to relax restrictions became widely known.
Party leaders sought to reassure voters before polls opened that their stance on gun laws was nothing to be alarmed about.
“We are aware of the sensitivities around these issues and we are seeking to find the balance, one that supports our families that work in the rural sector but which is not inconsistent with national gun laws,” Tasmania’s premier Will Hodgman said in comments reported by the ABC on Friday.
Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Daniel Wallis