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Fun in the sun: a summer election for Costello PM?

By Roy Williams - posted Friday, 3 August 2007

Despite the Howard Government’s dreadful standing in the opinion polls, most political “hardheads” keep publicly scoffing at the idea of a Liberal leadership change. They insist that the PM remains highly competitive, and/or that a switch to Peter Costello would be futile.

In any case, they say, it’s too late to do anything now - the election must be held in October or November.

All of this conventional wisdom is suspect, starting with the key issue of timing. Legally, the election can be delayed until early next year.


The “life” of the current House of Representatives does not expire until November 15, 2007 (three years after its first sitting day, which was November 16, 2004). The Governor-General then has a maximum of 10 days in which to issue writs for a general election of the next House. The relevant provisions in the Constitution are sections 28 and 32.

Once the writs are issued, the election must be held between 33 to 58 days later. And polling day must be a Saturday. These are matters of Commonwealth electoral law.

The upshot is this. The latest possible date for the election is Saturday, January 19, 2008 - over three years and three months since the last one.

There are precedents for such “late” polls. The third House of Representatives was elected on December 12, 1906. It first sat on February 20, 1907 and ran its full term, which expired on February 19, 1910. The election was not held until April 13, 1910.

The federal elections of 1949 and 1972 also took place well over three years after the one previous.

But an election in January? It’s never happened since Federation. Almost every fair dinkum Aussie is in the surf or on the grog, you can hear the “hardheads” chortle.


Certainly, Howard would be ill-advised to leave the election that late. It would look like a desperate attempt to cling to power, and simply annoy people - not least political journalists keen for a summer holiday.

But if Peter Costello were to assume the prime ministership in the next month or two, he could make a credible case for delay. “The country”, you can hear him saying, “needs the maximum amount of time to scrutinise me and my ministry in our new roles”.

In those circumstances the electorate might forgive a poll in January; or, at least, in December. And, in the meantime, anything could happen.

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About the Author

Roy Williams won the Sydney University Medal in law in 1986. He practised as a litigation solicitor in Sydney for 20 years, before becoming a full-time writer. He is the author of God, Actually, an award-winning and best-selling defence of Christianity published in Australasia by ABC Books and in Britain and North America by Monarch Books.

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