For the second time in 12 months, the Port Stephens local government elections have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The elections will now be held on Saturday, December 4. The decision also means that Port Stephens Council meetings will continue on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month, with the last meeting to be conducted on Tuesday, October 26.
Originally set down for September 2020, the statewide council elections were delayed 12 months because of health warnings and restrictions, with a new date for Saturday, September 4, 2021.
However, the latest Delta variant of the virus in Sydney, Central Coast and Wollongong has forced the postponement of the elections another three months. Nominations will open on Monday, October 25, and close on Wednesday, November 3.
The news comes as a disappointment for Labor's mayoral and east ward candidate Leah Anderson. "For the last few months I have been juggling work, family, and campaign commitments, and that is what I expected to do," she said.
"I paid for extra resources in my business to allow me to spend more time out with the community, so financially I have also invested a lot into running for council. To now have this pushed back another three months has more impacts on candidates personally than some people may think.
"I can only hope that we can keep to this new date in December and that back up plans are in place should we continue to be affected again by COVID-19 at election time this December."
Retiring Port Stephens councillors Steve Tucker, 67, and John Nell, who turns 74 in September, were quite relaxed about having to serve the council for another three months and in fact both believed that the delay should have been extended to March 2022. "I was telling my wife that I could be a councillor for life ... I may have to stay here till they throw me out," Cr Tucker joked.
On a more serious note, Cr Tucker said that the pandemic had left many things up in the air. "I think it will be interesting to see what happens, maybe some candidates will pull out because of the uncertainty. It doesn't affect me, I'm happy to hang around for as long as necessary."
For Cr Nell, life goes on. He did, however, question the merits of a December election. "Assuming we are out of lockdown and the election goes ahead on December 4, I would imagine that most people would have other things on their minds than going to the polls. I think March would have been a more appropriate date."
Cr Nell said it's quite possible he may be forced to miss his final meeting. "We have plans to go travelling in November ... this will of course depend on travel restrictions but if they are lifted I won't be hanging around till December 4."
A Port Stephens Council spokesperson said that they would await further advice after the decision made on Sunday by the local government minister (Shelly Hancock) as a result of the spread of COVID-19 in greater Sydney.
"We were due to send out information about the election to all residences in Port Stephens in early August, however this will now be delayed until later in the year, along with promotion of the election. We will continue to provide information and updates about the election on our website," the spokesperson said.
Ms Hancock said the government had worked with the Electoral Commission and NSW Health to implement a comprehensive plan to allow voters to cast their ballot safely in person, by post or online. iVote (electronic voting) will also be available for the first time and pre-poll voters will have 13 days to cast their ballot."
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