In an extraordinary move, the Prime Minister of Australia, Ms. Julia Gillard, has announced that the next federal election will be held on Saturday 14 September 2013. The outcome of this announcement is a de facto election period of 8 months.
According to ABC election analyst Antony Green, this is probably the longest notice that an Australian Prime Minister has given for an election since 1945, if not ever. The previous record was set in both 1958 and 1961 when Sir Robert Menzies gave three months’ notice.
Conventional wisdom in Australia has said that a sitting Prime Minister should employ one of the advantages of incumbency and keep the date of the election a secret until a few weeks before polling day. Such practice, which was considered intrenched in a country that does not have fixed-term elections, has now been abrubtly turned on its head.
Ms. Gillard has always been a controversial leader.
After knifing sitting PM Kevin Rudd in a midnight coup, she called an election in 2010 only to be presented with a Hung Parliament, before forming a minority government with independent and Greens support. Despite this, her government has successfully passed a number of key reforms including the National Broadband Network and Carbon Tax 2.0. However, Gillard’s political judgement has been called into question (including by myself) following her ousting of Rudd, her promise that “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead” and her appalling polling.
Whether the decision to announce the election so soon is clever or foolish is yet to be seen. Like her nighttime coup against Kevin Rudd, political wisdom would suggest that it is a risky move. Opposition leader Tony Abbott has proven himself to be surprisingly effective against a PM that many Australians still treat with a degree of suspicion.
I love election campaigns but this one will definitely have a distinctive flavour. It shall be interesting to watch the mechanations and manoeuvring from the ALP and Liberals as well as the Greens and three independents.
In 2010, Tony Abbot almost brought the Liberal Party back from the abyss after one term in opposition. It was a remarkable feat, but if he fails a second time to bring the Liberal Party to government, there is bound to be a leadership challenge. His credibility is therefore on the line.
Julia Gillard ousted Kevin Rudd in his first term and subsequently failed to win majority government for herself. This combination has meant that many Australians believe she lacks a degree of legitimacy. Gillard will want to win a third term for the ALP to secure some of her government’s long-term achivements as well as win a first election in her own right.
Both leaders will be fighting hard and it shall be a close contest.
Sit back and make yourself comfortable… this is going to be a long one.