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WA

Jan 7, 2013

Pencil in September for the federal election

The big one -- the federal election -- will occur later this year, and Western Australia will also head to the polls. Crikey's elections guru outlines the year ahead and makes some guesses on the big date.

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I begin 2013 as I did 2011 and 2012: with a review of this year’s electoral calendar. On the two previous occasions I engaged with the possibility that a federal election might be brought on ahead of time due to parliamentary defections and/or byelection defeats. Having proved more than a few detractors wrong in avoiding such mishaps, the situation for the Gillard government is definitive this time — it will face the polls this year, by no later than November 30.

Should the government 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 only 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.

“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) …”

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.

Considerably less ambiguity surrounds the second biggest electoral event of the year: the state election in Western Australia, where the Barnett government’s introduction of fixed terms has set the date for March 9.

The government has further taken the opportunity to return the election date to its traditional position early in the year, which had been upset by Alan Carpenter’s unsuccessful gamble in bringing the previous election forward to September in 2008.

The introduction of the fixed term regime has thus granted the Barnett government a six-month extension on its four-year term, which as far as I can tell makes this the second longest term served by an Australian parliament since federation — the first being a short-lived experiment with five-year terms in South Australia in the late 1930s.

Surprise early elections in other states are always a technical possibility, but fixed terms and bumper majorities make this very hard to envision in any case but one. The exception is Victoria, where Ted Baillieu’s government holds the slenderest of majorities, trails in the opinion polls, and has ongoing problems with the accident-prone member for a marginal seat. Were Baillieu’s government to fail where Gillard’s has succeeded — and lose a seat through a parliamentary defection or byelection — the result would be a parliamentary gridlock that would almost certainly require an election to resolve.

A step lower on the electoral food chain are byelections, which are hard to foresee in advance but almost certain to occur at least somewhere at state if not federal level. One intriguing possibility emerges from Bob Katter’s promising idea to lead the Katter’s Australian Party Senate ticket in Queensland and bequeath his existing seat of Kennedy to his son Rob Katter. That would require a byelection for Katter Jr’s existing state seat of Mt Isa, which would provide Katter’s Australian Party with a further opportunity to land a punch on the nose of the Liberal National Party.

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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98 comments

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98 thoughts on “Pencil in September for the federal election

  1. Jimmy

    Geewizz – Accoridng to Today’s age Slipper is being invetigated for $900 of travel expenses while he was a liberal member – Pyne, Abbott, Bishop and Brough are currently being investigated by the same body (the AFP) for their part in a possible conspiracy to abuse the court process for political gain – I know which is the bigger concern.

    Taylormade – I am not sure exactly what you want me to say about the questions you raise – I have said previously I preferred the original mining tax but the MRRT is better than nothing, also the MRRT worked as it was intended so far in that when minerals prices plummetted no tax was payable, now that the price has rebounded I expect tax to be paid.

    Not sure how he treated his colleagues and of course the timing was political but as I said the goal of the surplus originally was political and having a small deficit is good for the economy at this stage, as I also have said previously.

    How can you bel ieve anything Swan says, becuase everything he has done since being treasurer has been the best thing for the economy – the bigger question is how can you trust the Libs whose limited policy’s include;
    1) Cutting govt revenue by repealing the Carbon & Mining taxes
    2) Spending Billions on it’s Direct Action policy
    3) Spending Billions on it Paid Parental Leave Policy
    4) Spending Billions on Road Infrastructure
    5) Lowering Taxes and Raising the Pension
    6) Delivering a surplus in each year of his first term
    7) Increasing Superannuation Guarantee from 9-12%
    8) Repeal means testing for Private Health and FTB brought in under this govt.

    These things are contradictory and to be paid for will have to see billions slashed from govt spending (which is already lower as a percentage of GDP than under Howard) which will almost certainly have a negative impact on an economy facing turbulent global conditions.

  2. Jimmy

    Geewizz – According to Today’s age Sl ipper is being investigated for $900 of travel expenses while he was a l iberal me mber – Pyne, Abbott, Bishop and Brough are currentl y being investigated by the same body (the AFP) for their part in a possible conspi racy to abuse the court process for political gain – I know which is the bigger concern.

    Taylormade – I am not sure exactl y what you want me to say about the questions you raise – I have said previousl y I preferred the original mining tax but the MRRT is better than nothing, also the MRRT worked as it was intended so far in that when minerals prices plummetted no tax was payable, now that the price has rebounded I expect tax to be paid.

    Not sure how he treated his colleagues and of course the timing was political but as I said the goal of the surplus originall y was political and having a small deficit is good for the economy at this stage, as I also have said previously.

    How can you bel ieve anything Swan says, becuase everything he has done since being treasurer has been the best thing for the economy – the bigger question is how can you trust the L ibs whose l imited pol icy’s include;
    1) Cutting govt revenue by repeal ing the Carbon & Mining taxes
    2) Spending Bill ions on it’s Direct Action pol icy
    3) Spending Bill ions on it Paid Parental Leave Pol icy
    4) Spending Bill ions on Road Infrastructure
    5) Lowering Taxes and Raising the Pension
    6) Del ivering a surplus in each year of his first term
    7) Increasing Superannuation Guarantee from 9-12%
    Repeal means testing for Private Health and FTB brought in under this govt.

    These things are contradictory and to be paid for will have to see bill ions slashed from govt spending (which is already lower as a percentage of GDP than under Howard) which will almost certainl y have a negative impact on an economy facing turbulent global conditions.

  3. Apollo

    I don’t think Labor will win this election. My friend owns a couple of restaurants and a few pubs, he told me that most of the small business people he talked to are not happy with Labor even though half of those are fine with paying weekend penalty rates.

    This is a bad sign because small businesses make up a large part of the electorate and many of hem were supportive of Kevin Rudd in 07, and don’t dismiss that they are not significant and think that it’s their number of workers that are larger and will be supportive of Labor. In 2007, when Labor won the election, I was surprised to find out that my workers were not happy and I was more sympathetic towards Labor than they were. I told them but Labor will abolish Work Choices and it will be good for the workers. They were skeptical that it would happen and thought that Kevin Rudd would cave in to business’ pressure and would not do anything about it, and they did not care about the unions and did not think that the unions represent them.

    The unions are not too popular at the moment. They need to understand that they have to grow the market to capture more membership and support. The way to do it is to try to cater for the needs of as many of the workers as they can and accommodating to many individuals’ circumstances.

    For some industries at least, the employment contract should allow both scenarios: where the employees can nominate which two days they want off, and get penalty rates should they be called upon those days to work, or, nominate that they are free and flexible and will get penalty for working the sixth and seventh days in the row and overtime hours for non self-nominated long shift. Employees should be allowed to request new contract for change of penalty days when their circumstances change, twice a year, and the employer has the obligation to keep the employee on the normal shift/days that the employee is still available which was previously guaranteed in the prior contract and try new roster or find new employees to cater for change, but the employer does not have to guarantee the new different one or two day/shifts if they are not able to change other workers’ roster to accommodate for the employee’s new request. If the employee requests change of contract more than twice a year and seems too unstable then the employer is allowed to let the employee go if necessary, every now and then the employee might request a swap shift without the need to change contract because of thing that comes up but the employer does not have to pay penalty if the employee requests to work on his/her penalty days.

    If they are truly interested in looking after the workers then they need to have policy that provides protection for people of many different circumstances. Enforcing a strict weekend penalty rate is not winning them any friends. And the weekend penalty is not all about protection but can be about greed also. They want it so their members can put their hands up to work for more money. My little brother and his now ex-wife used to work weekends all the times to earn much more and left their kids to others to take care of them, the kids grew up not learning much value. So is it a penalty for working unsociable un-family hours or an incentive for money and family problems? We definitely need penalty rate for people who have to sacrifice the time over their family or have to work too long shift but you need to be flexible and realistic as well.

    There are many students who want to work weekends, unemployed people who are available in the weekends and want to have work, also some retirees who want extra cash, not to mention many single people available 24/7 and happy work weekend and take week days off. To impede some of the businesses who struggle in the weekend and cannot open because of high penalty rates does not serve the interest of the workers. If more people are employed and have more income to spend, more jobs will be created in the economy and more workers there will be to join the unions, or you can impede it, put more people on the dole and more people angry at Labor and the unions and vote Abbott in.

    Don’t be greedy or live on fantasy land like the Greens. Don’t get me wrong, I support the Greens’ ideal, but, some of their policies are too disconnected from reality, they don’t see the dynamics of all occurrences and forces in life, they only see what they want to see.

    I heard something about demand for penalty for out of normal hours to be enshrined in the Fair Work Act. Don’t try to acquire as much as you can from the company while accelerating its decline. The unions did not budge when GM was in trouble, still demanded to keep the same wage $49/h for their workers and the entitlements (for low skilled & easy work not like mining), GM had to go belly up and the US government had to come in to rescue. They had to restructure and trim down, it was not just bad management that caused the problem but the unions also played a part in it. When you help Abbott to get in, he might not be that keen on Work Choices but he will abolish the unions’ agenda.

    What is standard hours? Some restaurants can’t even open during the day half of the week and have to wait till dinner time to open when people finish work and go out. Night clubs don’t open until 10pm or 12am, sure late night early morning shift should attract some penalty for health reason but it is normal standard hours for these industries. People don’t have to apply for the job if the hours don’t suit their circumstances. At the time of job application, the employees should indicate which 40 hours they are available and the remaining unavailable times and also unconvient times for them but willing to fill in for penalty rate or they are more flexible, the employees don’t have to accept the job if the hours the employer requests don’t suit them. Some workers may request non’standard’ hours because that’s the only times they are available when they have their partner or someone else to look after their children, don’t think everyone is the same and enforce a strict regime, it won’t increase union membership but it will piss people off.

    It will probably be a good idea for the unions in certain industries to negotiate not excessively high wage, a bit lower but with some bonus for the boom cycle and go back to the base (i.e. without the bonus) in the bust cycle of the economy and company profits. Stronger company expands, more workers, more union members.

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