Election date roulette

For those who missed it, here is the business end of an article I wrote for Crikey yesterday concerning the possible date of this year’s federal election.

Having proved more than a few detractors wrong in avoiding defeat on the floor of parliament to this point, the Gillard government must face the polls at some time this year, by no later than November 30. Should it push the election date out as far as it can go, it will have extended its “three-year term” to three years and three months, the date of the 2010 election having been August 21. This is because the clock on the three-year term does not start ticking until the first sitting of parliament, which was on September 28, 2010. Once the parliamentary term expires, there can be a 10-day gap before the writs are issued, as many as 27 days for the ensuing nominations period, and a further campaign period of up to 31 days until polling day. The minority government agreement reached with Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott after the 2010 election stipulated the “full term” to be served should continue until September or October. The Howard government provided handy precedents in this respect, having held out for at least an extra month in 2001 and 2007 without incurring too much opprobrium.

The other end of the equation is how soon the election can be held. In theory, an election for the House of Representatives can be held at any time, so long as one dispenses with the assumption that it will be held concurrently with a half-Senate election (the time where a double dissolution might have been a theoretical possibility having already passed). A House-only election would put election timing for the two houses out of sync, something governments have been determined in avoiding since the last such election was held in 1972. There were theories abroad that the government might nonetheless have just such an election in mind, either to seize advantage of an upswing in the polls or to spare itself the embarrassment of failing to bring down a budget surplus. However, the government’s pre-Christmas withdrawal from the surplus commitment — together with the Prime Minister’s recent insistence the election date will be “around three years since the last one” — make it a safe bet the House’s election timetable will indeed be tied to the Senate’s.

The next half-Senate election will be held to replace senators who were elected when Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007. They began their terms in mid-2008 and will end their terms in mid-2014. The election process must begin in the final year of the six-year term, namely from the middle of this year. Since the process involves a campaign period of at least 33 days, the earliest plausible date is August 3 — less than three weeks before the third anniversary of the 2010 election. School holidays in various states between September 21 and October 12 offer a complication for part of the period nominated by Windsor and Oakeshott, although Howard’s decision to hold the 2004 election on October 9 showed that only the consecutive AFL and NRL grand final weekends were (in Howard’s own words) “sacrosanct”.

The best bets therefore seem to be the first three Saturdays in September (the 7th, 14th and 21st) and the last three in October (the 12th, 19th and 26th), with the proximity of the three-year election anniversary strengthening the case for September over October.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

2,828 comments on “Election date roulette”

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  1. [LOTOs, in governments with definite majorities, can usually point to changes in legislation which they brought about, by putting pressure on the government.]

    Can you provide an example?

  2. [Abbott, in a government with no margin at all, has been unable to influence anything much at all.]

    Abbott was successful in delaying offshore processing for a year or so!

    Yet that was his key plank in 2010…

  3. Then there is this from the Heritage Foundation on the current government’s handling of the economy

    [Public finances are soundly managed, and sovereign debt levels are under control. A transparent and stable business climate makes Australia one of the world’s most reliable and attractive environments for entrepreneurs.]


    Yes, the Heritage Foundation!

  4. [Abbott, in a government with no margin at all, has been unable to influence anything much at all.]

    Two points:
    – I don’t think Tony Abbott or the Australian people expected that Windsor and Oakeshott would hang on like barnacles to the extent that they have.
    – The hung parliament would have been a very differnet thing if the ALP did not effectively have a majority in the Senate with the Greens holding the balance of power. If this had not been the case, the government would have had a very rocky road.

  5. Psephos

    [That’s why Labor would be ill-advised to follow tempting diversions like an inquiry into the Slipper-Ashby case. An inquiry MIGHT finish before election day and it MIGHT find a smoking gun to implicate Abbott, but it probably wouldn’t, and it certainly would district voters from Labor’s positive message.]

    The parliament (note: not specifically Labor) has a duty to investigate any and all attempts to defraud the electorate of their vote and to punish those who seek power with seditious intent. The notion that the administration of justice would be a distraction to political messaging is a complete nonsense. If that were true we should postpone the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse until after the election so the electorate could concentrate.

  6. bbpseph

    yes, several changes to the original GST package picked up on concerns expressed by Beazley.

    Similarly, Howard picked up on Latham’s ideas – adopting his suggested changes to parliamentary super, for example.

    When people talk about the role of Oppositions, that’s usually what they mean – that a good Opposition points out some of the unintended and often unforeseen consequences of government legislation, and a good government picks up on them.

  7. [Similarly, Howard picked up on Latham’s ideas – adopting his suggested changes to parliamentary super, for example.]

    I would call that being spooked by a populist campaign when the polls were bad.

    More changes to legislation are driven by rumbling backbenches that oppositions.

  8. bbs

    er, you’re pointing to exactly why I’m saying Abbot has been useless.

    He SHOULD have been able to persuade Oakeshott or Windsor to support him on something. That they’ve been unpersuadable points to Abbott’s uselessness, not their intransigence.

    Similarly the Greens – they have voted with the Liberals on occasion. It’s not beyond the realms of fantasy to suggest that a less aggressive LOTO – Turnbull, for example – would have been able to work with them to get legislation through.

    Abbott has no excuse. With a lower House where the balance of power is held by independents, and an Upper House where the balance is held by a party which has sometimes supported with the Liberals, you would have expected him to not only make significant amendments to pieces of legislation but to have, on occasion, seen a bill of his own pass through both Houses, even if opposed by the government.

    As we saw with the asylum seekers legislation, it was possible. He just hasn’t been able to do it.

  9. Gecko @ 2806: “…The parliament (note: not specifically Labor) has a duty to investigate any and all attempts to defraud the electorate of their vote …”.

    I have no time whatsoever for Mr Ashby and those behind him, but your statement displays chutzpah to the nth power. Like it or not, the government’s intention in buying Mr Slipper off with the Speaker’s job was precisely to take a vote away from the Opposition, and thereby deprive the voters of Fisher of the opposition voice which, for better or for worse, they had chosen. It was exactly the same as the buying of Senator Colston by the Howard Government, and the attempted buying of the vote of an elected Labor MHA by Sir Edmund Rouse in Tasmania (which saw that knight sent to jail). There is scarcely a worse form of electoral fraud than buying off an elected member. All the legal ins and outs, which certainly don’t reflect well on Ashby et at, do not undermine this basic fact, which is why Psephos is right about an inquiry: the Government is living in a glass house.

  10. bbpseph

    Yes, the ALP opposed the GST. In doing so, they pointed out flaws in it, and Howard amended (some) of his package to address those flaws.

    As for Latham and super, what happened there is exactly what I mean – an effective LOTO can put pressure on the government and force the government to adopt measures it wouldn’t otherwise.

    Both Beazley and Latham were able to do this with Howard, in Parliaments where Howard held clear majorities.

    Abbott hasn’t been able to do the same, with a government which is considerably weaker.

    Interesting to see you go in to bat for Abbott!

  11. One ALP member, I think it was Rex Patterson from the Qld electorate of Capricornia in the time of the Whitlam government, was asked after retirement what was the difference between being in government or opposition.

    I can’t remember the exact proportions, but he said something to the effect that in Government you get about 60% of the policies you want and in opposition you get about 40%. As argued above, a good opposition successfully pressures the government through public opinion to modify some of its policies or implement some of the opposition’s policies.

    Latham’s effort on MP Super was a particularly strong example of this.

    Abbott’s only success has been to stop the government from implementing coalition policies (eg offshore processing)! Talk about own goals!

  12. Zoomster @ 2811

    I don’t think the Libs can ever expect the Greens to support them on much at all – they are too much polar opposites. When the Greens have opposed Labor, the Libs have usually been on the same side as the government.

    The biigest single policy failure of this government has been border control and of course the government has had to come full circle and take on offshore processing. They have had to effectively had to take on most of the Libs policy. And to introduce it they have had to get the Libs onside in the Senate. But would you count that as a constructive opposition?

  13. Zoomster is quite right.

    This parliament presented the Opposition with the opportunity to participate in the new paradigm… they offered bugger all and instead stonewalled process. So much for representing 49% of the vote.

  14. It’s hilarious watching Mod Lib whining about “Labor smears” against Tony Abbott.

    This after the Liberal party spent an entire month calling the PM a crook without a shred of evidence based on the ravings of an admitted fraudster, sex tourist and quite possibly someone who molested his sister.

    This after the Liberal continuously claiming the government is “inexperienced” with children, even though the cabinet actually has working mothers in it. We all know it’s a gutless dog whistle for “SHE’S BARREN LOLZ”.

    And this list goes on.

    It seems Mod Lib only gets upset when a Liberal gets a fraction back of what they have been dishing out.

  15. [He SHOULD have been able to persuade Oakeshott or Windsor to support him on something.]

    One would think that he could have but then it could be argued that they are as policy free as the Libs. They liked what they saw being offered from the government on the basis that they didn’t know what they wanted.

    It is a bit like going shopping without any idea of what you want to buy – and then impulse buying their way around the mall.

    Wilkie on the other hand had a much better idea at least on the gambling front as does Katter with his unreconstructed McEwenism.

  16. [Rex Patterson from the Qld electorate of Capricornia]

    Dawson actually, Doug Everingham was the member for Capricornia at the time.

  17. bbp

    Whether or not the Liberals expect the Greens to support them on anything, the fact is they have. Any Opposition with any nous at all would thus recognise the possibilities there and at least try to capitalise on them.

    As for the asylum seeker example, all that demonstrates is that the Opposition does have the power to force the government to adopt policies it doesn’t want to. That simply underlines my point, and emphasizes the extent of Abbott’s failure.

    It’s even starker when you consider that the government has at times encouraged the Liberals to participate in policy making. Most Oppositions would have jumped at the chance to mould legislation to their liking – most political parties are, after all, trying to put their stamp on the country, and being able to say ‘we altered this policy’ gives them serious boasting rights.

    The relentless negativity adopted by Abbott closed off those options to them. It’s that which has made him an ineffective Opposition leader (historically speaking).

  18. A call for end to wars and crusades by the US
    Representing a substantiual section of US opinion Pat Buchanan in the AMCON calls for an end to wars and crusades abroad saying that the American people are sick of neo-con warmongering whether from politicians like McCain or urgers like Kristol and The Lobby

    Bushanan says there is now the oportunity to talk with Iran given the Hagel oppointment will mean that war with Iran is no longer on the agenda
    He also calls for talks with Hamas re Palestine


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