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The election - any date won't do

By Julie Bishop - posted Thursday, 14 February 2013


Within our parliamentary system it is within the remit of the Prime Minister of the day to call the election, with regard to certain constitutional constraints but essentially at a time of their choosing.

It can be argued that any date a Prime Minister chooses for an election will not suit every voter, or that someone somewhere will be inconvenienced.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard sought to justify her decision to announce the date of 14 September for the election, seven months earlier than expected, on the grounds that it "enables individuals and business, investors and consumers, to plan their year."

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Yet this particular date of Saturday 14 September 2013 has a number of serious implications that raise questions about Julia Gillard's judgement.

One of the first objections raised against this particular date came from Australia's Jewish community, as the election clashes with the holiest date on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement.

Jewish people observing the day are required to refrain from work or from attending a Synagogue and will fast for up to 25 hours including refraining from consuming beverages.

The 2006 Census found there are around 90,000 Jewish people living in Australia.

There is no doubt that having a federal election on 14 September will cause a number of them significant difficulty in terms of voting on the day or otherwise taking part in the election process.

A second objection came from the AFL as September is finals month and the semi-final matches are scheduled for that weekend.

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Coverage of the election will be a major competitor to the media coverage of the game.

The AFL is considering its scheduling options.

The NRL would undoubtedly also hold similar concerns about the impact on any games scheduled for that weekend.

While the Prime Minister may feel that these domestic considerations can be brushed aside, it is much more difficult for her to justify the choice of 14 September taking into account a number of international commitments.

For example, Julia Gillard must have known that the G20 Leaders Summit is scheduled to be held in St. Petersburg on 6-7 September this year, one week before the election.

Australia is the host of the 2014 G20 Summit, which makes it part of the "troika" of current, immediate past and future hosts.

The Prime Minister said in December last year that "As part of this group (troika), Australia will play an enhanced role in guiding the G20's work in the lead-up to our G20 Presidency in 2014".

The nation that occupies the role of chair of the G20 is in a prestigious and influential decision-making position as the chair has the prerogative of setting the agenda.

The G20 is now regarded as the premier forum for international economic and financial cooperation and coordination - the closest thing we get to a global director's meeting.

It is vital that the Prime Minister attend this meeting, for to do otherwise would be seen as a snub at a time when Australia is the next nation to assume the G20 presidency.

With her election date timing, the Prime Minister has created the situation where she must choose between staying at home in the critical final days of the election campaign or fulfilling her international obligations at the St Petersburg meeting.

There is a recent precedent. In 2001 then Prime Minister Howard attended the 2001 APEC meeting in Shanghai during the election campaign that year.

Mr Howard flew out of Australia on 19 October with the election held on 10 November that year.

He was subjected to fierce criticism by the Labor Opposition for making that choice even though Howard argued that the national interest required his attendance at that important event.

Julia Gillard will face a similar situation, should she remain as Prime Minister should there be no change to the election date as announced.

She will also need to decide whether to attend the United Nations in New York when Australia assumes the rotating presidency of the Security Council on 1 September this year.

There is a tradition of the September chair of the UNSC holding a summit of the leaders of those nations on the Council during that month.

We are entitled to assume that the Prime Minister realises that Australia will be the UNSC president during the month of September. This makes her choice of September 14 even more inexplicable.

It would be disappointing if Prime Minister Gillard's infamous lack of interest in international affairs led her to dismiss the importance of the G20 Leaders Summit and the presidency of the Security Council.

These are obligations that no Prime Minister of Australia can lightly ignore and her decisions may have lasting consequences in terms of perceptions of our nation as a responsible international citizen.

Julia Gillard must make an early declaration of her intentions with regard to these important international commitments so that contingency planning can take place, regardless of her decisions.

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About the Author

Julie Bishop is the Federal Member for Curtin, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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All articles by Julie Bishop

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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