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Australian elections timetable



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Parliament of Australia Department of Parliamentary Services

Contents

Introduction ............................................................................................................................................. 1

The Commonwealth ................................................................................................................................. 1

The rules ............................................................................................................................................. 1

House of Representatives election ..................................................................................................... 2

Half-Senate election............................................................................................................................ 2

Simultaneous half-Senate and House of Representatives election .................................................... 3

Double dissolution election ................................................................................................................ 3

States and territories ............................................................................................................................... 6

Local government .................................................................................................................................... 9

Timetable of federal, state/territory and local government elections .................................................. 11

BACKGROUND NOTE Updated 30 May 2012

Australian elections timetable

Rob Lundie Politics and Public Administration Section

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Introduction

This Background Note provides a brief overview of the rules for determining the next Commonwealth, state, territory and local government elections. The paper lists the date of the next election where this is fixed, or where applicable, the earliest and latest possible dates on which it may occur. For an explanation of the electoral systems for federal, state and territory jurisdictions see the research paper by Scott Bennett and Rob Lundie, Australian electoral systems.1

The Commonwealth

The rules

While the calling of a Commonwealth election is partly a matter of political judgement and timing, a constitutional and legislative framework governs the electoral timetable and process. The Constitution requires periodic elections for both Houses of Parliament, with separate provisions reflecting the different constitutional role of each House. The maximum term of the House of Representatives is set by section 28 of the Constitution, which states that:

Every House of Representatives shall continue for three years from the first meeting of the House, and no longer, but may be sooner dissolved by the Governor-General.

The Constitution and the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (CEA) provide the following timetabling provisions for elections:

• writs to be issued within 10 days from the expiry of, or proclamation of the dissolution of, the House of Representatives (Constitution, sections 12, 32; CEA, section 151)

• following the decision of the High Court in Rowe v Electoral Commissioner on 6 August 2010 and the subsequent Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment and Prisoner Voting) Act 2011, the rolls close at 8pm on the seventh day after the date of the writ (CEA, section 155)

• nominations of candidates close not less than 10 days or more than 27 days after the date of the writs (CEA, section 156)

• the polling day shall not be less than 23 days nor more than 31 days after the date of nomination (CEA section 157)

• the election must be held on a Saturday (CEA, section 158)

• the writ must be returned no more than 100 days after the issue of the writ (CEA, section.159), and

1. S Bennett and R Lundie, Australian electoral systems, Research paper, no. 5, 2007-08, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2007.

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• Parliament must meet not later than 30 days after the date appointed for the return of the writs (Constitution section 5). Parliament may meet before the appointed date for the return of the writs if the writs have been returned.2

The time allowed from the expiry or dissolution of the House to polling day is therefore not less than 33 days and not more than 68 days.

House of Representatives election

A House of Representatives election can be requested at any time, but if the Government has control of the House and is able to proceed with its legislative program, the Governor-General is highly unlikely to agree to such a request within the first year of a new parliament. However, given that the Gillard Labor Government is a minority one, it is possible that an election could be called at any time, should the Government lose the confidence of the House3.

To calculate the latest possible date of the next election, the maximum number of days specified must be applied. The last possible date for the next election is within 68 days from the expiry of the House. As the 43rd Parliament first met on Tuesday, 28 September 2010, it is therefore due to expire on Friday, 27 September 2013.

The election for the House of Representatives must therefore be held by 30 November 2013, the last Saturday within this period.

However, an election may be held at any time before that date. Generally, elections are called well before there is a constitutional or legal necessity. There has been only one instance of an election being held after a parliament expired through effluxion of time. This occurred in 1910. In recent times, Prime Minister William McMahon has gone closest to a full-term parliament, dissolving the House in 1972 after two years, 11 months and eight days. The 41st Parliament under Prime Minister John Howard, also went close, with a term from 16 November 2004 to 17 October 2007, of two years, 11 months and one day.

Half-Senate election

Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate is a continuing body. Half the state senators retire on 30 June every three years, except in the case of a simultaneous dissolution of both Houses. Section 13 of the Constitution requires that an election be held within one year before the places of retiring senators become vacant. The terms of senators for the territories coincide with those of the House of Representatives.

There is no constitutional requirement that elections for the House of Representatives and state senators be held simultaneously. They are generally held together, primarily to avoid the duplication

2. IC Harris, ed, House of Representatives practice, 5th ed, Canberra, Department of the House of Representatives, 2005, p. 214. 3. N Horne, Hung parliaments and minority governments, Background Note, Parliamentary Library, 23 December 2010.

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of costs in holding separate elections and because it is felt that voters would not look kindly upon a government that called separate elections. The last time a half-Senate only election was held was in 1970.

If the elections for the House of Representatives and half the Senate are to be held simultaneously, the date must conform with the constitutional provisions relating to the terms of senators and the period during which the election must be held.

The terms of senators elected in 2007 expire on 30 June 2014. Therefore, in theory, the next half-Senate election must be held between 1 July 2013 and 30 June 2014. However, because a half Senate election effectively cannot be held in July, the earliest possible date for such an election is Saturday 3 August 2013.4

The latest realistic date for a half-Senate election is Saturday 24 May 2014. This is to allow sufficient time for the Senate writs to be returned by 30 June 2014, so that the senators may take their seats on 1 July.5

Simultaneous half-Senate and House of Representatives election

As House of Representatives and half-Senate elections are usually held together, the earliest date for a simultaneous election would be Saturday, 3 August 2013.

Although the latest possible date for a half-Senate election is 24 May 2014, the latest possible date for a simultaneous (half-Senate and House of Representatives) election is the same date that is required for the House of Representatives, 30 November 2013.

Double dissolution election

Section 57 of the Constitution provides that both houses may be simultaneously dissolved should there be a legislative deadlock between them. A deadlock occurs only when a three month period has elapsed between the Senate rejecting a bill and the House passing it a second time only for it to be rejected again.6 Once these conditions have been met, a double dissolution election can be called though not within six months of the expiry date (27 September 2013) for the House of

4. S Bennett, Restrictions on the Timing of Half Senate Elections, Research note, no. 38, Department of the Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2002. 5. The Australian Electoral Commission advises that since the last three elections have been held with data punching of the ‘below-the-line’ Senate ballot papers, polling day could be as late as 24 May 2014 and still allow sufficient time

for the Senate writs to be returned by 30 June 2014. 6. A critical consideration affecting the timing of any double dissolution is the date from which the three-month interval is calculated. Although some aspects of section 57 remain unclear, a majority of the High Court held in Victoria v Commonwealth and Connor (1975) 134 CLR 81 that the three-month interval commences on the date on which the

Senate rejects or fails to pass the Bill. The High Court has not expressed a definitive view as to the commencement of the three-month period in which the Senate passes a Bill with amendments ‘to which the House will not agree’. At the time of writing, there are no double dissolution triggers.

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Representatives. This means that the last possible date for the dissolution of the current houses is Wednesday, 27 March 2013.

As the Gillard Government does not have control of the Senate, there is a possibility that circumstances may arise which meet the requirements for the calling of a double dissolution election.

If there is a double dissolution on 27 March 2013, the usual timetabling requirements apply. The writs must be issued within ten days of the dissolution, that is, by 6 April 2013. The writs may be issued on the same day as the dissolution occurs, but as section 12 of the Constitution requires the writs for Senate elections to be issued by the State Governors, these writs may not necessarily be issued on the same day as the dissolution. Should the writs be issued on the same day, and the shortest times apply, nominations would close on 6 April 2013, and polling would be on Saturday, 4 May 2013. Should the maximum times apply, the writs would have to be issued by 6 April 2013 and nominations would have to close by 4 May 2013. The latest possible polling date for a double dissolution election is Saturday, 1 June 2013.

Table 1: Commonwealth: next election dates

Last election Earliest date Latest date

Simultaneous half-Senate and House of Representatives 21 August 2010 3 August 2013 30 November 2013

House of Representatives 30 November 2013

Half-Senate 3 August 2013 24 May 2014

Double dissolution 1 June 2013

Source: Australian Electoral Commission; Parliamentary Library

It is possible that the Gillard minority government could be forced to an early House of Representatives only election if it loses the support of the Independents with which it currently has agreements. However, in recent times, the most usual types of election have been either a simultaneous half-Senate and House of Representatives election, or a double dissolution election. For either election, the Government has usually opted for a short campaign period. The tables below set out the minimum election timetables for the earliest and latest election dates for these two elections. Because there are limits as to when an election can be called for either type, to establish the latest polling date the maximum timetable period must be used.

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Table 2: Commonwealth: Simultaneous half-Senate and House of Representatives election possible timetables

Earliest possible

election date with a minimum election period

Latest possible election date with a maximum election period

Expiry/dissolution of Parliament 30 June 2013 27 September 2013

Issue of Writs (within 10 days from expiry/ dissolution of Parliament) 30 June 2013 7 October 2013

Close of Rolls (seven days after issue of writs) 7 July 2013 14 October 2013

Close of Nominations (not less than 10 days or more than 27 days after the issue of writs) 10 July 2013 3 November 2013

Declaration of Nominations (one day after close of nominations) 11 July 2013 4 November 2013

Polling Day (not be less than 23 days nor more than 31 days after the close of nominations) 3 August 2013 30 November 2013

Return of Writs (no more than 100 days after the issue of the writs) 7 September 2013

7 15 January 2014

Meeting of Parliament (not later than 30 days after the date appointed for the return of the writs but may meet before that date if the writs have been returned)

9 September 2013 8 14 February 2014

Source: Australian Electoral Commission; Parliamentary Library

Table 3: Commonwealth: Double Dissolution election possible timetables

Latest possible

election date with a minimum election period

Latest possible election date with a maximum election period

Expiry/dissolution of Parliament 27 March 2013 27 March 2013

Issue of Writs (within 10 days from expiry/ dissolution of Parliament) 27 March 2013 6 April 2013

Close of Rolls (seven days after issue of writs) 3 April 2013 13 April 2013

Close of Nominations (not less than 10 days nor more than 27 days after the issue of writs) 6 April 2013 3 May 2013

Declaration of Nominations (one day after close of nominations) 7 April 2013 4 May 2013

Polling Day (not be less than 23 days nor more than 31 days after the close of nominations) 4 May 2013 1 June 2013

Return of Writs (no more than 100 days after the issue of the 8 June 2013 9 15 July 2013

7. The Australian Electoral Commission believes this would be a reasonable period in which to count the votes and have the writs returned. 8. Parliament is able to meet as soon as the writs have been returned. 9. See footnote 7 above.

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Latest possible

election date with a minimum election period

Latest possible election date with a maximum election period

writ)

Meeting of Parliament (not later than 30 days after the date appointed for the return of the writs but may meet before that date if the writs have been returned)

11 June 2013 10 14 August 2013

Source: Australian Electoral Commission; Parliamentary Library

States and territories

Each state and territory has its own provisions as to when elections are held. The following table sets out (where applicable) the earliest and latest dates on which the next elections can be held for the lower house. All states, except Queensland, have bicameral parliaments. The territories are unicameral.

There are usually exceptional circumstances in which early elections can be called and they vary slightly from parliament to parliament. They include such things as the government losing the confidence of parliament, parliament failing to pass a money bill for the ordinary services of government, parliament failing to pass a ‘Bill of special importance’ on two occasions, the date of the election clashing with the date for the Commonwealth election, or if there is a natural disaster.

Table 4: States and territories: next election dates

Most recent Actual/Fixed date Earliest date Latest date

NT 9 August 2008 25 August 2012

ACT 18 October 2008 20 October 2012

WA 6 September 2008 9 March 2013

SA 20 March 2010 15 March 2014

Tas 20 March 2010 24 May 2014

Vic 27 November 2010 29 November 2014

NSW 26 March 2011 28 March 2015

Qld 24 March 2012 20 June 2015

Source: State and territory electoral commissions; Parliamentary Library

Northern Territory

Section 17 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 (NT) determines that the Legislative Assembly has a maximum four-year term. In March 2009 the Legislative Assembly adopted a fixed

10. See footnote 8 above.

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date for elections. Section 23 of the Electoral Act 2004 (NT) was repealed by section 4 of the Electoral Act Amendment Act 2009 (NT). The new sub-section 23 (1) says:

‘For determining the date for a general election if the previous general election was not an extraordinary general election, the general election is to be held on the 4th Saturday in August in the 4th year after the year in which the previous general election was held.’

However, if an extraordinary election has been held because the Government either lost the confidence of the Assembly or an appropriation bill was rejected by, or failed to pass, the Assembly,11 ‘the general election is to be held on the 4th Saturday in August in the 3rd year after the year in which that extraordinary general election was held’.12

Australian Capital Territory

The Legislative Assembly has a fixed term. Section 100 of the Electoral Act 1992 (ACT) decrees that elections are held on the third Saturday in October every four years. If the date clashes with a Commonwealth election, then it must be deferred until the first Saturday in December. Furthermore, the election would also not occur if there has been an extraordinary election held within six months before the October date. An extraordinary election may be held for example, because the Governor-General has dissolved the Assembly, or because the Chief Minister has lost the confidence of the Assembly.

Western Australia

On 11 November 2011 the Western Australian Parliament passed the Electoral and Constitution Amendment Act 2011 (WA) which established a fixed election date. Elections will be held on the second Saturday in March every four years.

South Australia

The South Australian House of Assembly has a fixed term. According to section 28 the Constitution Act 1934 (SA) a general election of members of the House of Assembly must be held on the third Saturday in March every four years unless this date falls the day after Good Friday, occurs within the same month as a general election of members of the Commonwealth House of Representatives or unless the conduct of the election could be adversely affected by a state disaster. In conjunction with the Assembly election, an election is also held for 11 retiring members of the Legislative Council.13

The Governor may also dissolve the Assembly and call a general election for an earlier date if the Government has lost the confidence of the Assembly or a bill of special importance has been

11. Electoral Act 2004 (NT), sections 24, 25. 12. Electoral Act 2004 (NT), sub-section 23 (2). 13. Constitution Act 1934 (SA), section 14.

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rejected by the Legislative Council.14 Both the Council and the Assembly may also be dissolved simultaneously if a deadlock occurs between them as outlined in section 41 of the Act.

Tasmania

Section 23 of the Constitution Act 1934 (Tas) stipulates that the Tasmanian House of Assembly has a maximum four-year term from the day of the return of the writs. The election date is not fixed and can be called at any time with the Governor’s agreement. The Electoral Act 2004 (Tas) governs the process of elections.

Elections for the Legislative Council are held in May every year on a six-year cycle with elections for three members being held in one year, for two members the next year and so on.15

Victoria

The Legislative Assembly has a fixed four-year term. Barring exceptional circumstances (for example, the date clashes with a Commonwealth election), elections are held on the last Saturday in November every four years.16

Elections for Legislative Council members are held on the same day as those for the Legislative Assembly. The election process is governed by the Electoral Act 2002 (Vic).

New South Wales

The Legislative Assembly has a fixed term unless, subject to section 24B of the Constitution Act 1902, the Government has lost the confidence of the Assembly or an appropriation bill has been rejected or failed to have been passed by the Assembly. For fixed term elections, the elections are to be held on the fourth Saturday in March every four years unless this would mean they would be held during the same period as a Commonwealth election, during a holiday period or at any other inconvenient time.17

Elections for half of the Legislative Council are held simultaneously with each Legislative Assembly general election. The election process is governed by the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act 1912 (NSW) and the Constitution Act 1902 (NSW).

Queensland

The Legislative Assembly has a three-year term from the date appointed for the return of the writs (Constitution Act Amendment Act 1890), but the election date is not fixed. This is determined according to a process outlined in the Electoral Act 1992 (Qld) (Sections 82(2) and 84(1)(d)).

14. Constitution Act 1934 (SA), section 28A. 15. Constitution Act 1934 (Tas), section 19. 16. Constitution Act 1975 (Vic), sections 38 and 38A. 17. Constitution Act 1902 (NSW), sections 24A and 24B.

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Local government

There are local councils in every state and territory except the ACT. Each state and territory has its own provisions as to when elections are held. The following table sets out the most recent elections and when the next elections are due.

Table 5: Local councils: next election dates

State/Territory Most recent Next election Comments

New South Wales 13 September 2008 8 September 2012

Victoria 11-28 November 2008 9-26 October 2012 Councils conducting postal vote elections

29 November 2008 27 October 2012 Councils where voters must

attend a polling booth

Western Australia 15 October 2011 19 October 2013

Tasmania 11-25 October 2011 15-29 October 2013

South Australia 12 November 2010 7 November 2014

Northern Territory 24 March 2012 March 2016 Specific date to be determined

Queensland 28 April 2012 26 March 2016

Source: State and territory electoral commissions; Parliamentary Library

New South Wales

Elections for local councils are held every four years on the second Saturday in September. This is determined according to a process outlined in the Local Government Act 1993 (NSW) (Chapter 10).

Victoria

Elections for local councils are held every four years on the fourth Saturday in October. This is determined according to a process outlined in the Local Government Act 1989 (Vic) (Part 3 Division 4 Section 31).

Western Australia

Elections for local councils are held every two years on the third Saturday in October. This is determined according to a process outlined in the Local Government Act 1995 (WA) (Part 4 Division 4 Section 4.7).

Tasmania

Elections for local councils are held every two years in any uneven year by full postal vote with the polling period finishing on the last Tuesday in October. This is determined according to a process outlined in the Local Government Act 1993 (Tas) (Part 15 Section 268A).

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South Australia

Elections for local councils are held every four years on the last business day before the second Saturday in November. This is determined according to a process outlined in the Local Government (Elections) Act 1999 (SA) (Part 2 Division 1 Section 5).

Northern Territory

Elections for local councils are held every four years in March on a date decided upon by the Minister. This is determined according to a process outlined in the Local Government Act (NT) (Chapter 8.1 Section 85).

Queensland

Elections for local councils are held every four years on the last Saturday in March. This is determined according to a process outlined in the Local Government Electoral Act 2011 (Qld) (Part 4 Division 1 Section 23).

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Timetable of federal, state/territory and local government elections

Table 6 sets out the elections which are due or have occurred across all jurisdictions for the next few years. It does not include supplementary elections, by-elections or separate legislative council elections.

Table 6: Timeline of election dates, 2012-2015

Election Date (actual or due) Jurisdiction and Type of Election

2012

24 March Northern Territory (local)

Queensland (state)

28 April Queensland (local)

25 August Northern Territory (territory)

8 September New South Wales (local)

20 October Australian Capital Territory (territory)

9-26; 27 October Victoria (local)

2013

9 March Western Australia (state)

Between 3 August and 30 November Federal (House of Representatives and half-Senate)

19 October Western Australia (local)

15-29 October Tasmania (local)

2014

15 March South Australia (state)

By 24 May Tasmania (state)

7 November South Australia (local)

29 November Victoria (state)

2015

28 March New South Wales (state)

By 20 June Queensland (state)

17 October Western Australia (local)

13-27 October Tasmania (local)

Source: State and territory electoral commissions; Parliamentary Library

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