Federal Election Timing

The Commonwealth Parliament resumes this week in what is likely to be an election year.  While the next federal election can be held as late as 16 April 2011, it is considered most likely to be held before the end of 2010.

There are a number of constitutional and political factors at play influencing timing.

  •  The current House term expires on 11 February 2011.  While it is unlikely the House will still be sitting this late, the date is important mainly because:
  •              – Constitutionally, the Government’s double dissolution trigger cannot be used
  •                within six months before the House is due to expire – so 10 August 2010 is
  •                the last day the Government can call a double dissolution.

While the Government may use its trigger any time before 11 August, other factors may influence the Government:

  • Senate terms are backdated to 1 July the previous year.  Any double dissolution held before 1 July 2010 means the incoming Senate’s term would be taken to have commenced on 1 July 2009. While this may not influence the Government’s decision, it would mean another half-Senate election would be due by mid-2012 and may put the Senate election “out of sync” with the House.  The Government is able to call a normal House/half Senate election from 1 July onwards.
  • South Australia and Tasmania vote on 20 March and Victoria votes on 27 November.  While there is no legal impediment to a state and federal campaign overlapping, modern convention suggests the Federal Government will try to avoid any coincidence.

These factors apply to when the Government calls the election by advising the Governor-General to dissolve parliament.  The election date itself is anytime between 33 and 68 days after the election is officially called.

Also, election campaigns in Australia usually run for between 5-6 weeks.   So, while it is technically possible for the Government to call a double dissolution in early August for an election in early October, this is unlikely.  By Australian campaign conventions, any double dissolution would likely be held before mid-September.

Date Government calls election Double dissolution House/half Senate Possible election dates
Before 1 July 2010 Allowed Not allowed Any Saturday before and including 31 July
1 July – 10 August 2010 Allowed Allowed Between Saturday 7 August and Saturday 16 October inclusive
11 August 2010 – 11 February 2011 Not allowed Allowed From Saturday 23 October 2010 until Saturday 16 April 2011