With an agreement reached between Labor and the Greens to pass the government’s housing legislation, even the remotest prospect of an early double dissolution election has vanished.
The only way for a joint House and Senate election to be held before August 2024 was via a double dissolution election. With that already unlikely option now removed, an election before August 2024 is only possible if Anthony Albanese breaks with 50 years of Prime Ministerial tradition and holds separate House and half-Senate elections.
In theory a House election can be called at any time, but as has been the case at every election since 1974, the next House elections will be held in conjunction with the next half-Senate election due at latest in May 2025.
Fixed terms and a constitutional restrictions mean that writs for a half-Senate election cannot be issued until 1 July in the year before a Senate term expires. This restriction creates an election window between August and May every three years.
The next election window opens on Saturday 3 August 2024, the first possible date for an election if writs are issued on 1 July. The election window will stay open until mid-May 2025, the last date being 17 or 24 May.
There remains a chance the government could go to a House and half-Senate election between August and October 2024. But the option is unlikely due to redistributions and a series of state and territory elections. Everything points to the government going full term to May 2025.
Of course, events over the next 20 months could unfold differently. And if they do, the election could arrive earlier than April-May 2025.
The Argument for an Early Election
Some have put forward an economic argument for an early election. While prospects for a recession have subsided, a period of slow growth is still likely. It will be some time before interest rates fall. Unemployment may tick up. And voter awareness of higher prices will remain even if inflation returns to normal levels.
The argument for going early is that a well-received budget in May 2024, combined with the delivery of the promised stage 3 tax cuts on 1 July, would be a good time for the government call an election.
In my opinion, that only works if August 2024 is going to be much better economically than May 2025 given the cynicism there would be over a government not going full term.
Having committed itself to delivering the tax cuts, it’s my view the government would be more interested in going full term. A lot of lower-income Labor voters will see little or no benefit from the stage 3 cuts, so the electoral benefit for the government is from delivering a promise, not from the value of the cuts.
Plus there are other factors working against an August-October election.
Major Redistributions in three states.
For the next election, Western Australia is to gain a 16th seat, while both NSW and Victoria will lose seats. The size of the House of Representatives will be reduced from 151 to 150 seats at the next election.
The published timetables for the redistributions will see the process completed in September-October 2024, which will make it very difficult to have an election in the second half of 2024.
If an election is called before the redistributions are finalised, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) will need to undertake what’s called a mini-redistribution. In NSW and Victoria, the two lowest enrolment adjacent districts would be merged into single seats. In Western Australia, the two highest enrolment adjacent districts would be split into three.
On latest enrolment figures, a mini-redistribution would cause the following changes.
- In NSW, the Independent held seats of Warringah and Wentworth would be merged into a single seat with enrolment of 247,483 electors. This seat would run from Dee Why to Coogee bridging North and South Heads, creating an electorate with no internal connection between areas on opposite sides of the harbour.
- In Victoria, the marginal Labor seats of Chisholm and Higgins would be merged to create a single electorate of 219,977 electors in inner-eastern Melbourne.
- In Western Australia, the inner-northern Perth seats of Perth and Cowan would be divided into three seats. Both seats are currently Labor held.
Let me repeat that the above mergers would only occur if the government called an early election before the three redistributions are complete. Even once complete, it seems to me that the government is not going to call an election until it knows the electoral boundaries.
And I don’t see the government calling an election for November-December 2024 after only a cursory glance at the new boundaries.
Political Implications of the ‘The Voice’ Referendum Result.
All current polls point to the referendum being defeated. I’m not making a prediction of that, but for the moment let me start out by assuming the referendum is defeated.
While No campaigners have stuck to the issue of the referendum, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has weaved the referendum into a broader political narrative of what Australian voters think the government should be concentrating on.
Mr Dutton has argued the Prime Minister should spend more time on cost of living than what the Opposition Leader has called a divisive vote on The Voice.
If the referendum is defeated, the government will need to put effort into switching the focus of politics back onto dealing with the economy, energy supply and cost issues, cost of living pressures, and general perceptions on whether the government is governing competently.
For most of its time in office, opinion polls have suggested the public view the government as competent managers. That view has taken a knock in recent weeks with handling of aviation issues, and Opposition arguments it is not paying enough attention to the cost of living pressures affecting average families.
If the referendum is defeated, the government is going to need time to switch back to issues that will decide the outcome of the next election.
But to look at the other scenario, a Yes victory would pile huge pressure on the opposition and its decision to oppose the referendum. It might cause a change in Liberal Leadership, but even then, the government still couldn’t call an election until after the redistributions are complete. And then the government runs into the state election clashes outlined below.
State and Territory Elections
The 2024-25 federal election window is dotted with state and territory elections, another pointer to the government carrying on till May 2025.
Brisbane City Council Election – 16 March 2024
It may be neither state nor territory, but Brisbane City Council is local government on steroids.
Brisbane City Council has more voters than Tasmania and the two territories combined and more power than any local government body in the country. It has a popularly elected Lord Mayor and 26 Councillors.
The Council has been run by the Liberal Party (now LNP) since 2004, in control of both the Mayor’s position and the Council since 2008. Current incumbent Adrian Schrinner has been in office since 2019 and leads a Council with 19 LNP Councillors to five Labor, one Green and one Independent.
For two decades Brisbane voters have voted Liberal/LNP for Council, Labor at state elections with one exception in 2012, and generally LNP at Federal elections.
No one is expecting an upset in March. The LNP is expected to retain control of the Council. The federal and state interest is how Labor and the Greens perform.
At last year’s Federal election, the Greens won the inner-city seats of Brisbane, Griffith and Ryan. The use of optional preferential voting will make it harder for the Green and Labor vote to coalesce and take Council seats from the LNP. But the balance of the two parties has implication for who forms Opposition on council, and implications for the Queensland state election in October.
Northern Territory Election – 24 August 2024
The Northern Territory election will be held on 24 August 2024. The Labor government has been in office since 2016, with current Chief Minister Natasha Fyles leading the government since May 2022.
The Northern Territory is the election where the referendum result is most likely to intrude. While its status as a Territory means the NT is unlikely to play a part in determining the result, both the Yes and No sides want to win the Northern Territory as a symbolic victory. With more than a quarter of NT voters of indigenous background, who wins the battle locally has political potency.
NT Country Liberal Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price has been one of the highest profile advocates for the No side. CLP Leader Lia Finocchiaro is also supporting the No cause, while the Labor government is backing Yes.
Will this matter for next year’s NT election? Over the last year, law and order has been a huge issue in Alice Springs, the issue even forcing its way on to the national political stage. As is often the case in the NT, law and order becomes the debate rather then the more complex and intractable problems of social disadvantage and family breakdown. Some of the Voice debate has been about whether Yes or No would do more to fix the problems, or whether the debate is just chewing up time and effort on fixing the problem.
As is normally the case, the NT election will be decided in the suburban seats of greater Darwin. The average enrolment per NT electoral district is around 6,000 voters. These tiny seats will turn on local issues, being far from the problems in Alice Springs, and removed in time from the referendum result.
What could be important is the emergence of strong local Independents, especially in remote area seat.
The Federal implications of the NT election stem from both Federal seats, Lingiari and Solomon, being marginal Labor seats. Labor’s current strong position in the NT is built on the failures of the Giles Country Liberal government, but it left office in 2016 and is fading from memory. It is the current NT Labor government’s record that will be front of mind for voters in August 2024, and could flow through to the Federal election.
ACT Election – 19 October 2024
In 1999 the ACT was the only Australian jurisdiction to vote Yes in the Republic referendum. If The Voice referendum is defeated on 14 October, there is a strong chance the ACT will again be the sole hold-out against a No vote.
The Liberal Party has not won an ACT House seat at a general election since 1977. It held one of the two ACT Senate seats from 1975 until 2022 when Liberal Zed Seslja was defeated by Independent David Pocock.
In ACT politics, the Liberal Party held office as a minority government under moderate Liberals Kate Carnell and Gary Humphries from 1995 to 2001. Labor has now been in government for more than two decades, governing in minority, in majority, and since 2012 as a Labor-Green coalition government.
The ACT Liberal Leader is Elizabeth Lee. Her party holds 9 seats in the 25-member Legislative Assembly against a government of 10 Labor and six Green MLAs. The Legislative Assembly is elected by proportional representation from five five-member districts.
Over two decades the ACT Liberal Party has become more conservative as the electorate has become more socially progressive. After 23 years in office, the Labor-led government should be under pressure, but local interest seems to be whether the Greens can eat further into Labor’s base. Plus the electoral success of Independent Senator David Pocock has led to rumours of him backing a party for the ACT election.
The Federal interest in the ACT is whether the Liberal Party can recover its traditional Senate seat. What happens at the ACT election has little impact on Federal politics, but who wins the second ACT Senate seat does.
Queensland Election – 26 October 2024
One week after the ACT election is the far more significant Queensland state election.
The Labor Party was smashed at the 2012 Queensland state election, the party reduced to just seven seats. As the most senior MP to survive the rout, Anastacia Palaszczuk became the new Labor Leader. Initially few gave her any chance of victory at the 2015 state election.
Given its vast majority, it was astonishing that the Newman government lost in 2015. Palaszczuk has since led her party to re-election with increased majorities in both 2017 and 2020 despite hostile media coverage. She is the longest serving female head of government in Australian history, still faces hostile media coverage, and speculation remains as to whether she will still be Premier come the election.
Federal and state politics seem interwoven in Queensland. The great political successes of Peter Beattie occurred while John Howard was Prime Minister. New Premier Anna Bligh just survived in 2009 at a time when Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister. Her government’s wipe-out in 2012 occurred while Julia Gillard led an unpopular Federal Labor government.
Campbell Newman’s defeat occurred 17 months after Tony Abbott became Prime Minister. Some in the LNP remember how the last week of Newman’s 2015 re-election campaign was swamped by Prime Minister Abbott’s decision to grant a knighthood to Prince Phillip. But that controversy was more icing on an unpopular cake baked by three-years of Premier Newman’s aggressive political style.
Will the new Albanese Labor government in Canberra spell trouble for the Labor government in Queensland? Labor made no inroads north of the Tweed in 2022, but “Canberra Labor” always does worse than “Queensland Labor”.
The political geography of Queensland for state elections is that Labor must hold all its seats in regional cities along the state’s coast. Labor needs to win the Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton, Mackay and Bundaberg seats to win majority government. There are not enough seats in greater Brisbane to compensate for missing out on victories in regional cities. Labor struggles to win Gold and Sunshine Coast seats, which is why Labor’s prospects depend so strongly on the north.
Labor’s threat in 2024 is two-pronged, from the LNP up north and from the Greens in inner-Brisbane.
As well as their three inner-Brisbane federal seats, the Greens hold two similarly located state seats and have prospects for victory in several others.
Labor could be caught in a pincer movement, fighting the Greens on issues popular with inner-Brisbane residents, but fighting the LNP on different issues in regional cities. But with Greens, Independents, One Nation and Katter’s Australian Party all present in the Legislative Assembly, there is the chance that no clear winner will emerge.
If there is a backlash building against the Queensland Labor government, it seems unlikely that Federal Labor would risk calling an election before Queensland goes to the polls. To draw on a phrase made famous by former Labor Premier Wayne Goss, if things go bad for Labor up north, Queenslanders will be waiting on verandas with baseball bats for the first Labor government to cross their path.
Labor won the 2022 Federal election without gaining any seats in Queensland. The government would hope to make some gains in the state at the next Federal election to offset losses elsewhere. That’s why the Federal government is unlikely to go to the polls before Queensland.
Western Australia – 8 March 2025
After the landslide victory achieved by the Labor Party in 2021, you would think Labor have few concerns about Western Australia.
Having won 53 of the 59 seats in the state’s lower house, polled just short of 70% of the two-party preferred vote, and won a Labor majority in the state’s upper house for the first time in WA history, Premier Mark McGowan bestrode the state like a colossus.
The glow was still there in May 2022 when a 10% swing and the gain of four WA seats delivered the Albanese government its majority.
But the political landscape has changed. Mark McGowan has retired and new Premier Roger Cook is less popular, admittedly measured against the stratospheric ratings of his predecessor.
Labor will suffer significant losses at the next state election, though the Liberal and National Party opposition is unlikely to achieve the 25% swing needed for victory.
The position of the opposition is muddied by National Party Leader Shane Love being the official Leader of the Opposition, his party holding four seats to the Liberal Party’s two. The Liberals have a new, younger and female leader in Libby Mettam, but the opposition’s task is made harder by having so few members trying to cover an experienced government. The Liberal Party’s organisational wing has also been badly weakened by successive defeats.
If the Federal government does not go to the polls in late 2024, it is unlikely to go in February before the WA election. No Australian government wanting to win re-election interrupts summer holidays.
More likely the Federal government will wait until after the WA election. It has marginal seats it needs to hold and a redistribution to deal with. Prospects will be better after the state election than before.
Tasmania – by mid-2025
Tasmania is the only state that retains variable election dates. The last election was May 2021 so the next is due in mid-2025. Defections mean the Rockliff Liberal government no longer has a majority. The chances of an election before 2025 are high, but when is unknown.
So when will the Federal election be?
For the reasons I’ve set out, everything points to the government going full term to mid-May 2025. Writs won’t be issued until after the WA election, and with Easter 2025 set for mid-April, a pre-Easter election would need to have the date announced in the week after the WA election.
Could the government split the two elections?
It could but it won’t. No government has ever called a separate half-Senate election at a time when the House has passed three years since the last election.
It is the half-Senate election that must be held by mid-May 2025. The House election could be, but won’t be, pushed out as far as September 2025.
Before both the 2019 and 2022 elections I was harangued on Twitter that Scott Morrison was going to split the elections. I said this wouldn’t happen and it didn’t happen. When PM Morrison mentioned the different dates in his letter to the Governor-General, I was again harangued that the PM had seriously considered the option. He hadn’t.
The next election will be for the House and half the Senate at an election not later than mid-May. There will not be a separate half-Senate election ahead of a separate House election later in 2025.