Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could force voters back to the polls three times in the next two years. Photo: Alex EllinghausenPrime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could force voters to the polls another three times in the next two years.
If Mr Turnbull gets his way Australians will be asked to turn out for both the same-sex marriage plebiscite and the Indigenous constitutional recognition referendum some time in 2017.
That could culminate in a federal election in 2018, possibly as early as August – just 23 months from now.
A new paper by the Parliamentary Library points out that because of some of the vagaries surrounding this year’s double dissolution and Senate terms the next election – assuming it’s a normal house and half-Senate election – has to be held between August 4, 2018 and May 18, 2019.
But that’s an already crowded nine months, leaving Mr Turnbull – assuming his leadership survives that long – with a conundrum.
While he may be inclined to hold on to power for as long as possible before going back to the people, 2019 looks particularly tricky.
Going late in that range would require him to move the budget, and by much more than a week like he did this year.
He’d either need to deliver it significantly earlier in the year before calling a campaign – which would be extremely logistically difficult – or push it back into the second half of the year, after voters have cast their judgement.
While March elections were common in the 1990s, this time it would be difficult because it would inevitably conflict with the NSW state election, due to be held on March 23. Mr Turnbull could ask the NSW government to move the date of its election but that would be unprecedented and politically perilous.
And if the election was early in March the government would still need to push the budget back into the second half of the year.
“The government also tries to avoid having an election campaign over the Easter period. As Easter Sunday is on 21 April in 2019, this may be a factor if an election is considered in that year,” the library says in its analysis.
Any earlier in 2019 and the campaign would have to start in January, when people are on holiday and totally disengaged with politics. This did not work terribly well for former Queensland premier Campbell Newman.
But late 2018 also poses some barriers.
A poll between October and December would seem to make the most sense but there’s another state election in the way: Victorians are due to go to the polls on November 24, 2018.
Mr Turnbull could not realistically go after that because it would conflict with the Christmas break.
To avoid any campaign overlaps he’d have to call the election in July, August or September – but even then his options are limited by football grand finals.
Going too close to a state election could also severely stretch party fundraising abilities.
Of course, the same-sex marriage plebiscite may not happen if Mr Turnbull can’t win parliamentary support.
The Indigenous referendum could also be pushed back into the next term of Parliament if politicians fail to get their act together. However at this stage hopes are still high it will happen in the second half of 2017.
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