That’s a harder question than it seems. The complex interaction between laws relating to double dissolution elections, half Senate elections, House of Representatives elections, State elections (coming up in New South Wales and Victoria), and the timing of football finals and more, mean the earliest reasonably possible date is 4 August 2018, for which the election would have to be called by 2 July – only two months away – and the latest reasonably possible date would be May 18, 2019.
Making a judgement about which Saturday, between those dates, might be Election Day was complicated enough, and we were going to post this article which credibly suggests 20 October 2018: http://beginrant.wordpress.com/2018/05/07/begin-rant-why-ive-got-my-money-on-october-20/.
Until the events of Wednesday 9 May 2018 made it much more complicated, that is! Four ineligible “Members” of the House of Representatives flagged or delivered their resignations, to join Tim Hammond who recently resigned because of the impact of frequent travel on his young family: www.news.com.au/national/politics/labor-senator-katy-gallagher-ineligible-to-serve-in-federal-parliament/news-story/868c92e0d0a6f8a1cc0de14abd01a5a2. All four (plus Mr Hammond) are non-Government MPs.
We’ve now got 5 by-elections across 4 states, and as Paula Matthewson notes in her newsletter* Despatches on 9 May:
“Somewhat surprisingly, the AEC website advises that “there are no constitutional or statutory requirement that writs … be issued within any prescribed period”.
“Interestingly there’s precedent for a Speaker to decline to issue a writ when a federal election is ‘pending’ to avoid having two elections in close proximity.”
This opens up the possibility of the Prime Minister (OK, notionally the Speaker of the House of Representatives, but let’s be real) waiting until 2 July or a couple of days before, and an early Australian general election would then be called for 4 August.
As Matthewson further noted:
“If opinion polls show that voters have responded favourably to the Budget, would this be a path that Turnbull would take to an ‘early’ election? The option would have to be tempting given it’s expensive to participate in a by-election, and the Coalition isn’t exactly cashed up when compared with the combined election war-chest that has been created by Labor and the union movement.”
Other things which might push Prime Minister Turnbull towards one Election Day or another include:
- Voters can get cranky if they are sent to the polls too frequently or too early: with whom would the voters of the five by-election seats get angry, if required to vote in a general election shortly after a by-election? Maybe Labor, whose MPs/processes have caused four of the five by-elections, or maybe the Prime Minister who chose the schedule for both.
- Four of those 5 seats are on a knife-edge, and campaigners in Liberal HQ will be urging the Prime Minister to do nothing which might alienate the voters. Don’t forget he’s governing with a one-seat majority, and the prospect of doubling or tripling that margin must be appealing.
- As noted by Ms Matthewson above, the Federal Budget has just been brought down, and no-one knows how the electorate is reacting: one thing for sure is that much of the media for the next day or two, at least, will be consumed with discussion of the resignations and by-elections rather than the budget.
- The by-elections are a real opportunity to thoroughly test how well the parties campaign, and whether the budget is an electoral plus or minus.
- If the timing of the by-elections means the general election needs to be further away, not calling that general election on 4 August means the general election might have to be called at time at which the political landscape is somewhat unknown and unpredictable: for example, when polling is less propitious for the Liberal-National Party Coalition, and fewer election date options are available, as Ms Crosby lays out in her Begin Rant article linked above.
- Does Labor want an election now or next year? While it isn’t up to them to decide, they can put the Prime Minister under a lot of pressure over many of the choices he might make – and there will be concerns within the Coalition at their capacity to withstand sustained populist pressure.
- The media – and some in the Australian Labor Party – are characterising these by-elections as a test of Labor Opposition Bill Shorten’s leadership: the incumbent Government would probably prefer to face Mr Shorten in a general election rather than a new Labor leader enjoying a honeymoon with the electorate.
So, our best bet:
Prime Minister Turnbull is most likely to wait and see how well his budget is received in the community over the next week, and then choose both by-election and general election dates.
Which ones? On balance, probably by-elections now (say, June) which maintains some flexibility to call a general election for late October, May 18 2019, or February 28 2019, or less likely another date in 2019 albeit identified in Ms Crosby’s article as somewhat unfavourable … but if by-election dates aren’t announced in the next couple of weeks, get ready for a general election on 4 August 2018.
PS … Thanks to everyone who has been debating these options on Facebook et al – the discussion has provided plenty of food for thought!
* You should subscribe, via this page www.linkedin.com/pulse/have-you-signed-up-your-daily-despatches-paula-matthewson/