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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.

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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.

William Bowe — Editor of The Poll Bludger

William Bowe

Editor of The Poll Bludger

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, is one of the most heavily trafficked forums for online discussion of Australian politics, and joined the Crikey stable in 2008.

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2,828 thoughts on “Election date roulette

  1. lizzie

    I don’t see that Labor (parliamentarians) have been ‘smearing’ Abbott. I agree that there have been continuous attacks by Labor supporters, but that would also be true for Lib supporters on all media.

  2. guytaur


    I asked specifically in relation to the use of the IMF claims in a campaign how the Coalition would counter.

    They cannot just say awww he said surplus and then being better economic manager adjusted to suit economic circumstances. Thus breaking a promise.

    That does not work. John Howard proved it. So what are the LNP going to counter that with?

  3. Rossmore

    One of the 400+ comments in The Guardian on the Tassie bushfires….

    Astonishing, apocalyptic photos. As stirring as those from the Dust Bowl in 1930’s Oklahoma, et. al.
    Perhaps the time for talking about climate change is coming to an end. It’s arrived. And we should start preparing for it’s consequences.


  4. Harry "Snapper" Organs

    Frankly, Mod Lib, I can’t understand why you would support the current Libs in any way, shape or form.

    They’re clearly economically illiterate, certainly Abbott is. They contradict each other every second day, sometimes the same day on pronouncements with profound economic repercussions and they’ve said they don’t trust Treasury.

    They really would destroy the joint.

  5. blackburnpseph

    Mod Lib @ 2773

    My point – not terribly well conveyed I admit – is that the PPM is just a straw being grabbed and not a realistic guide as to how the ALP might go come August or whenever.

  6. muttleymcgee

    [Why is JG fine and TB terminal?]

    JG has policies, TA has none
    JG is improving, TA is worsening
    JG has legislated lots, TA has achieved record, futile SSOs.
    JG supported a Carbon Price, TA opposed it, misrepresented it and didn’t even vote against it.
    JG has delivered NBN, TA squibs to MT who makes a fool of himself.

    Need we go on …..?

  7. Fran Barlow

    I could probably add as well, Kevin Bonham, that Abbott has been LotO during a period when people were at entitled to reckon with the possibility that the government might be defeated on the floor of the house or forced to accept LNP amendments to some bill and/or that the Indies might install Abbott as PM on some basis or another.

    Typical LotOs are seen as purely notional opponents (until an election is called) rather than active players in politics or the potential authors of new policies. It’s in this sense that the negative campaign run by Abbott has been double-edged. While it clearly hurt the regime for a long time, creating the impression of persistent crisis, when it became clear that the regime would run full-term, the lack of any coherent policy alternative to the ALP became entangled with the negative campaign — marking him as a wrecker and contributor to dysfunctional politics — which is why Turnbull got some traction when he started speaking up for being constructive.

    IMO, the gap in favour of Gillard as PPM is therefore a lot more significant than it would be if we’d had “normal” politics since August 2010 — and really does underscore the salience of the policy debate that sooner or later must take place.

  8. blackburnpseph

    Psephos @ 2774

    A most interesting observation.Not sure what to make of it however. My view is that it is not a government that is necessarily unpopular, more like one that the populace are indifferent toward.

  9. Fran Barlow


    [when people were entitled to reckon with ]

  10. muttleymcgee

    WOW! Thank you, Rossmore!

  11. Mod Lib

    Posted Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 5:05 pm | PERMALINK

    I asked specifically in relation to the use of the IMF claims in a campaign how the Coalition would counter.]

    I suspect the LNP will ignore the IMF. If the ALP thinks it can get any traction by using the IMF best of luck with that!

    The ALP has been boasting for years about “bringing the budget back to surplus” and then hung their economic management reputtion to that particular swag.

    Some posters here told me I was crazy to question whether there would be a surplus as the government would absolutely HAVE TO ensure a surplus and so they would do whatever it took to ensure it happened.

    It appears it wont. That fact is way more powerful than anything the IMF says in the electorate.

  12. guytaur


    That fantasy has been blown out the water. Public accepts it was a purely political promise to the detriment of economy.

    MSM and economists told them so.

    Non core promise.

  13. Mod Lib

    Posted Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 5:07 pm | PERMALINK
    Mod Lib @ 2773

    My point – not terribly well conveyed I admit – is that the PPM is just a straw being grabbed and not a realistic guide as to how the ALP might go come August or whenever.]

    My comment was not actually aimed at you, I just replied to your post as an appropriate vehicle for making my comment!

    Sorry 🙂

  14. Gorgeous Dunny

    I admit I only looked at one Essential for my comment, but the ratio was a lot lower than -16. It was below 10, I know.

    It’s possible that following the desperate smear attempts with the Slater & Gordon/ AWU stuff from 1995 that there might have been a brake a a moderate reversal. Despite the perennial line of “questions to answer”, nobody has come up with any that she hasn’t answered so far.

    It’s been sustained by the OM but without any substance to it, it will die a natural death. It’s only a question of whether Mesma wants to go down with it.

    If that has been the blip in her recovery, it will fade away. Lynch and Khemlani might have worked (with media support) 40 years ago, but Blewett is no Khemlani. His history has been as a petty crook, with a record.

  15. Mod Lib

    By “that fantasy” are you referring to an ALP government delivering a surplus?

    hehe 🙂 I am norty but a few people still like me 😉

  16. Fran Barlow


    [Swan is helping the Libs out on the economic matters by making promises and now likely going going to break said promise.]

    It was politically unwise to make such a specific promise, but I doubt that it will change the minds of anyone inclined to vote ALP. As far as I can tell, most people aren’t keen on austerity if they think it means recession or something like it. People inclined to vote LNP will certainly cite it, and the press will do their Gotcha! routines but in the end, if growth continues then Swan’s belated message that he’d prefer to protect the economy than his PR will be accepted by everyone who was a show of voting ALP — especially since the independent experts — including conservative-aligned experts/thinktanks like Ergas and Access — were saying he should put politics aside and abandon the commitment.

    Conversely, if commodity prices recover enough, he might just get his surplus, which would then be a bonus for the ALP while underlining the basic point that government and household budgets are quite different kinds of thing.

  17. zoomster

    Actually, the most remarkable thing about Abbott is how little he has achieved.

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

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

    With the Parliament on a knife edge, with a huge lead in the polls (which, at the very least, gave him a groundswell of support he could tap into) he failed utterly to capitalise on the situation.

    If he fails to win the next election, he won’t even be a footnote in history.

  18. Gecko

    [The group think that TB is facing certain defeat is a case in point:
    1. The election is ages away for him- why do bloggers not use that excuse for the Vic LNP as you do for the Federal ALP?]

    I don’t see TB as terminal but the glaring difference is he has little popular policy and Julia has a lot. Nobody in Vic identifies with Andrews at the moment so the polls are merely a reflection on perception of government performance and have nothing to do with a better Labor alternative… this will of course change early 2014 as Labor begin identifying what they’re about and are scrutinized.

  19. guytaur


    It appears the breaking of the carbon tax promise is looking like the breaking of the GST promise.

    So even that is not the negative now you are hoping it is.

  20. Mod Lib

    Been fun, fraid I have to go now….visitors! A little “real world” interruption I am afraid…

    Good night.

  21. blackburnpseph

    [It was politically unwise to make such a specific promise]

    Stupid would be a more succinct way of putting it. Making it in the first place, and then hanging on and hanging on with the fiction that it would happen.

  22. lizzie


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

    I always find it strange that he refuses even to engage (or to let his caucus members engage) in worthwhile negotiation on important legislation. In this attitude he’s the same as the Repubs in USA.

  23. blackburnpseph

    [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?

  24. Darren Laver

    [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…

  25. halloween jack

    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!

  26. blackburnpseph

    [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.

  27. Darren Laver

    [Can you provide an example?]

    ALP’s opposition to the GST meant that it was not as broad as originally intended.

  28. Gecko


    [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.

  29. blackburnpseph

    Darren @ 2805

    It was the Democrats that drove the changes to the GST. The ALP opposed it outright.

    Another example please.

  30. zoomster


    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.

  31. blackburnpseph

    [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.

  32. Gecko

    [It was the Democrats that drove the changes to the GST.]

    And may Meg Lees rot in the proverbial for ever more. 😡

  33. zoomster


    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.

  34. pedant

    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.

  35. zoomster


    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!

  36. ajm

    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!

  37. blackburnpseph

    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?

  38. Gecko

    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.

  39. Bobalot

    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.

  40. blackburnpseph

    [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.

  41. shellbell

    Nick Greiner’s attempt to “buy out” Terry Metherell cost him his job as premier.

  42. blackburnpseph

    [Rex Patterson from the Qld electorate of Capricornia]

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

  43. Gecko

    Rossmore @ 2812

    The PM is on the money here. She has definitely started the year well.

  44. zoomster


    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).

  45. ajm


    Rex Patterson from the Qld electorate of Capricornia

    Dawson actually, Doug Everingham was the member for Capricornia at the time.
    Correct, but I was reasonably close!

  46. confessions

    [Can you provide an example?]

    Changes to parliamentary superannuation which Latham forced Howard into.

  47. CTar1

    modlib is truly an attention seeker with nothing to add.

  48. deblonay

    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