Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Australia 2022: so when does the count down to the federal general election begin?


The timing for national general elections is determined by a combination of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Australian Constitution and elections are required to be held approximately once every three years. 

The government of the day decides on the actual date and the prime minister advises the governor-general accordingly. The clock starts ticking once the House of Representatives is dissolved and writs are issued, with a minimum 33 day to a maximum 58 day countdown to polling day.

If the Morrison Government intends to hold a normal (House of Representatives and half-Senate) general election, this year polling day must be no later than 21 May 2022.

Mismanagement of the federal public health response to the global COVID-19 pandemic has barely paused for breath since Day One in January 2020 and commenced a journey towards catastrophic on 15 June 2021 with the Delta Variant Outbreak, compounded on 28 November by the Omicron Variant Outbreak.

The rolling litany of errors made the possibility of writs being issued for a 2021 election campaign a high risk venture for the incumbent government.

By November 2021 it was clear that the earliest a federal election could be scheduled was in the first half of 2022.

However, not only is January & February this year ruled out because governments have tended to avoid those traditional 'holiday/back to school' months, these particular months are currently shaping up to continue recent national record-breaking daily new COVID-19 case numbers.

March doesn't appear to offer the possibility of what Coalition MPs & senators would consider a low risk election either -  as SARS-CoV-2 Omicron Variant infection growth may not have peaked or may still be considered unacceptably high by the general public and COVID-19 related hospital admission numbers may not have fallen far enough to ease the strain on the public health system. 

The draft 2022 parliamentary sitting calendar as at 9 December 2021 showed the Morrison Government intended to present the Budget on 29 March 2022.

If Morrison & Co adhere to this plan then that appears to leave only three suitable Saturdays to hold an election according to the Australian Parliamentary Library - 7, 14 & 21 May 2022, with the early voting period now reduced to no more than 12 days in length.

By then, a national voter pool - stressed by two years and three months of a pandemic which never seems to end, coping with uncomfortable levels of uncertainty and, about to enter winter after a summer & autumn with weather that frequently alternated between wet or humid - will tiredly drag itself to the polling booths.

Of course, if Prime Minister & Liberal MP for Cook Scott Morrison consults his inner-Trump, there is always an excruciating outside possibility that he will call a half-Senate election by 21 May 2022 and a separate House election as late as 3 September 2022.

Thus marking out 2022 as Australia's fourth consecutive annus horribilis.