Why There Won’t be an Early Federal Election in 2024

Early election speculation is like some creature from an Eagles song. You can stab it with your steely knives but you just can’t kill the beast.

In the first half of 2023, when the Albanese government was ahead in all polls and looking assured in its control of the levers of power, talk of an early election in late 2024 was plausible.

Redistributions along with local, state and territory elections made timing difficult, but there were narrow windows for an early election either side of the Queensland election in October 2024.

But that window appears to have been firmly closed. The failed ‘Voice’ referendum, further rises in interest rates and growing cost of living pressures have damaged the government’s standing. The government has looked less assured in steering the ship of state.

Yet last week there were new stories emanating from Queensland about the Coalition’s need to be prepared for an election this year.

In my opinion the prospects for an election in late 2024 have evaporated.

The timeline for redistributions covering two-third of seats in the House of Representatives has effectively ruled out an election before Queensland goes to the polls. And an election immediately afterwards would be fought on boundaries that parties as yet do not know.

And as the chances of Labor governments in the Northern Territory and Queensland being re-elected have diminished, so has the Albanese government’s desire to face voters before them.

To borrow a phrase made famous by former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss, angry voters up north are on their verandas with baseball bats waiting for the first Labor government to pass. Nothing suggests that the Albanese intends to wander past first.

Which leaves only an early December election for 2024. December was once a common month for elections, but it is 40 years since the last December Federal election.

At this stage everything points to Anthony Albanese making the same decision as Scott Morrison in 2019 and 2022 – holding house and half-Senate elections in May at the end of a three-year term.

State and Territory election clashes

The following elections are set to be held between August and October 2024.

  • Northern Territory election on Saturday 24 August
  • NSW local government elections by attendance voting on 14 September
  • Australian Capital Territory election on Saturday 19 October
  • Queensland state election on Saturday 26 October

In addition, the US Presidential election is on Tuesday 5 November. While unrelated to Australian election timing, the battle for the White House will captivate media and political circles and the distraction of a federal election campaign would not be appreciated.

There is no constitutional issue that would prevent a Federal campaign overlapping with state campaigns. There is a Commonwealth law which prevents other levels of government holding an election on the same day as a Federal election. State and territory law includes provisions that allow dates to be varied when they clash with a Federal election.

Not that a clash is likely. The Albanese government is unlikely to put its future on the line before voters in the Northern Territory and Queensland have passed judgement on their incumbent Labor governments.

Labor holds both Federal seats in the Northern Territory by small margins. Better to let local politics play out and give voters six months before asking them to elect Federal members.

It’s a similar story in Queensland. The local Labor government is approaching ten years in office and voter memories of the preceding Newman LNP government are fading. The Miles government will stand or fall on its record. If it falls, Labor would like a gap of several months before the Federal election.

Labor won just five of Queensland’s 30 seats at the 2022 election, the Albanese government winning despite a poor result in Queensland. It’s hard to see how federal Labor could do worse in the state at the next election, but I’ve written that at numerous Federal elections over the last three decades.

Against this Labor thinks there are Queensland seats the government could win from the LNP. But chances of that depend on voters having first passed judgment on the Miles government before the Federal election.

Problems with Redistribution Timing

Redistributions are currently underway in three states and the Northern Territory. None prevent an early election, but the three state redistributions create significant logistical difficulties for holding an early election if the drawing of new boundaries is not completed first.

The Northern Territory’s two divisions are being re-drawn under a periodic redistribution to equalise their enrolment. The redistribution is due to be completed on 4 March 2025. If an election is called before the redistribution is complete, the existing boundaries would be used.

But using the existing boundaries is not an option available for the three states undergoing redistributions.

New South Wales is losing a seat, down from 47 to 46 seats, as is Victoria, down from 39 to 38. Western Australia is gaining a seat, up from 15 to 16 seats. The overall size of the House reduces from 151 to 150 seats.

Draft boundaries are due to be released in the next four weeks. The boundaries will be finalised for Western Australia on 24 September, New South Wales on 10 October, and Victoria on 17 October.

The complication is that each state must elect the new number of members at the next election. If the redistribution is complete, the new boundaries will be used.

If the election is called before the redistribution in a state is complete, then most electorates will be contested on their old boundaries, and a ‘mini-redistribution’ undertaken hurriedly by the Electoral Commission to remove or add a seat.

Mini-redistributions have been part of the Electoral Act since 1984 but the relevant provision has never been invoked. No government has ever gone to an election when the drawing of electoral boundaries is incomplete.

What Happens in a Mini-Redistribution?

If a state is losing a seat, the AEC will merge the two adjacent divisions with the fewest total enrolled voters to create a single division.

If a state is gaining a seat, the AEC will take the two adjacent divisions with the highest total enrolment and split them into three seats.

Based on enrolments at the end of March, a mini-redistribution would make the following changes.

  • In NSW, a geographically ludicrous electorate called Warringah-Wentworth would be created straddling Sydney harbour across the heads. This would merge the northern shore seat Warringah, held by Independent Zali Steggall with a margin of 7.2% versus the Liberal Party, with the eastern suburbs seat of Wentworth south of the harbour. Wentworth is held by Independent Allegra Spender with a margin of 4.2% versus the Liberal Party.
  • In Victoria, a new seat called Chisholm-Higgins would be created merging two seats gained by Labor at the 2022 election, Chisholm with a Labor margin of 6.4%, and Higgins on 2.1%.
  • In Western Australia, the eastern Perth Seat of Hasluck and the vast northern seat of Durack would be split into three seats. The current margins are Hasluck (ALP 6.0%) and Durack (LIB 4.3%). The new seats would be a smaller Hasluck in Perth’s east, a smaller Durack in the north of the state, and a new seat called Durack-Hasluck straddling the edge of Perth and running into the wheatbelt. It is impossible to know the margins of these three seats until after the mini-redistribution.

So an election called early and requiring mini-redistributions would disadvantage the Albanese government. In NSW it would remove one of the crossbench Independents that currently occupy a traditional Liberal seat. In Victoria it would abolish a Labor seat, and in Western Australia create a new seat that would probably be difficult for Labor to win.

Going to an election before Queensland would require mini-redistributions. I’m confident this rules out an election before Queensland on 26 October.

But with new boundaries in place, an election called after Queensland for early December would be possible. But calling an election so soon after new boundaries have been put in place has its own dangers and seems unlikely.

Everything points to an election in the first half of 2025 once candidates know the boundaries of the seats they will be contesting.

Election Timing in 2025

A Western Australian election is due to be held on 9 March. Australia has never had an election day in January or February and seems unlikely to do so in 2025. An election between mid-March and mid-May looks certain.

In 1993 Paul Keating announced the Federal election date the day after Labor Premier Carmen Lawrence lost that year’s WA state election. Labor had lost office but results were good enough to encourage Keating to call a Federal election that he won.

Could the same happen in 2025?

An advantage for Keating in 1993 was that budgets were still introduced in August. Since 1994, budget day has moved to May. Except in 1996 when Keating’s election held on 2 March saw the new Howard government delay its first full the budget till August.

Election timing has resulted in budgets being brought forward ahead of the last three elections. In 2016, the Turnbull government’s decision to call a double dissolution for July saw the budget moved to early April. In both 2019 and 2022, the likelihood of a May election saw the budget brought forward to March.

Later this year the Albanese government will release its proposed sitting schedule for 2025. It will be certain to include a budget date in March, pointing to an election in May.

But an election does not require a budget in March. If an election were called before the budget, the relevant financial figures would still be released under the Charter of Budget Honesty. The government would be accused of running away from releasing a budget, but a budget released in March would never pass parliament before the election.

The Easter break starts with Good Friday on 18 April, so an election could just be squeezed after the WA election on 9 March with polling day on 11 April. Or the election could be announced in February for late March, over-lapping with Western Australia’s election.

The last time federal and WA elections overlapped was in 1983 when Malcolm Fraser called a snap double dissolution election half way through a WA state campaign. The O’Connor Coalition lost government in WA to Labor under Brian Burke on 19 February, Labor sweeping the west and helping Labor win a then record result in the state as Bob Hawke led Labor to federal office.

More likely the Albanese government will release its budget shortly after the WA state election, then arrange the relevant supply bills and call a Federal election for some time in May.

The public holidays around Easter and Anzac Day impact on the timing of key election events such as close of rolls and close of nominations. The holiday break means the election campaign may be six rather than five weeks.

Some Background on Election Timing

The term of the House of Representatives is three years, but not three years from the date of the last election. The Constitution defines a term as running three years from the first sitting day of the House after the election.

So the three year term of the House is prefaced by a period between polling day and the first sitting, and suffixed by a period between the House’s expiration or dissolution and polling day. The House must sit within 30 days of the writ being returned for the previous election, and polling day must be held within about nine weeks of the previous House’s end.

In the current parliament, the last election date was 21 May 2022 and the first sitting of the House on 26 July 2022. The current House will expire on 25 July 2025 and in theory the next House election could be as late as 27 September 2025.

Only once in Australian political history has a term of the House run three years and expired. That was in 1910, when because of a 1906 referendum extending the term of the Senate, the Deakin government let the House expire and went to the polls three years and five months after the previous election.

Letting the House expire won’t happen in 2025. The election will be held on or before 24 May 2025 because there must be a half-Senate election.

While House terms are variable, Senate terms are fixed. The terms of state Senators elected in 2019 expire on 30 June 2025. A half-Senate election must be held in time for newly elected Senators to take their seats on 1 July. With 5-6 weeks required to complete the complex Senate count, the estimate is that the election must be held by 24 May.

In theory the Senate election could be held in May and a House election as late as September. This will not happen. No government has ever held a separate half-Senate election at a time when three years had elapsed since the last House election.

Despite mad Twitter claims that the Morrison government might split the elections in 2019 or 2022, it didn’t. Neither will the Albanese government. The next general election will be by 24 May 2025.

The Constitution states that half-Senate elections cannot be held until one year before the end of the Senate’s term. The High Court has ruled this to mean writs cannot be issued until 1 July in the year before Senate terms end.

This means there is an election window between August and May every three years in which it is possible to hold a joint House and half-=Senate election.

Given that voters treated separate half-Senate elections in the 1960s as giant by-elections, governments are now loath split elections.

All 19 elections since 1974 have been joint elections, 14 for the House and half the Senate, five being double dissolutions for the House and the whole Senate.

And as a final note, there will not be a double dissolution as it is highly unlikely that any legislation will create the conflict between the House and Senate that permits dissolving both chambers for a full election.

10 thoughts on “Why There Won’t be an Early Federal Election in 2024”

  1. wouldnt WA be split between cowan, hasluck and cowan-hasluck since that is the highest adjoining division to hasluck? unless i’m missing something?

    COMMENT: You’re missing that Durack has the state’s highest enrolment. As at 31 March, the combined enrolment of Hasluck and Cowan was 250,710. The combined enrolment of Hasluck and Durack was 252,394. So Hasluck and Durack would be split. The numbers may change month to month.

  2. Manicka Dhanasekar

    Excellent Analysis
    All your factual points also concur with the political wave sweeping through
    There were talks of a double dissolution election when the Greens held the Housing Future Fund bill in the Senate in 2023. That then resolved.
    Current status of politics points to a May 2025 election.

  3. Antony is correct Ben; Durack has a higher enrolment than Cowan as of March 2024. The mini redistribution is a based on the most recent enrolment numbers, not the ones that were used at the start of the redistribution.

  4. Conducting an election with cumbersome and essentially unfair mini-redistributions in any State should rule out such an election, as the Government would appear both opportunistic and inept. The gross disparities would be an ongoing election issue, quite apart from the specific detriment that they might cause. The provision for mini-redistributions should ensure that they are never used.

  5. @jeremy no govt has ever gone to an election prior to the finalising of redistribution and i doubt they ever will baring a no confidence motion or double dissolution

  6. Neat analogy in the opening para! Would not have picked you as a fan of The Eagles.

    COMMENT: I’m not particularly but the reference was more understandable than the vague reference to Greek mythology I was thinking of.

  7. “….it is 40 years since the last December Federal election.”
    That was also an early election, called by Bob Hawke. It did not go well for Labor, although it scraped back into office. I’m sure that old, hard heads in Labor would remember that (assuming there are some left).

    1. Bear in mind Paul that election in December 1984 came after the election of the Hawke Government in March 1983 so it was a relatively short period between elections.
      It was also an election where Hawke was distracted by serious drug issues within his family that he revealed in a media conference.

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