Australia’s last federal election (the 45th) was held on the 2nd July 2016, and resulted in only a two seat majority for the Coalition in the House of Representatives. The outcome was: Coalition – 76 seats, Labor – 69 seats and 5 cross-bench seats (Independents 2, The Greens 1, Katter’s Australian Party 1, Nick Xenophon Team 1).
This election was called a few months earlier than necessary to accommodate a full senate vote (double dissolution) because of an hostile Senate with 18 cross-benches who refused to pass key legislation. The ploy was not successful since the vote increased the cross-benches to 20, with the Coalition losing 3 seats to 30, and Labor gaining one to 26, in the 76 seat House.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had became Australia’s 29th Prime Minister in a leadership ballot held on the 14th September 2015 as a result of which he inherited a 30 seat absolute majority in the House of Representatives won in the September 7, 2013 election by Tony Abbott.
As an election winning first-term Prime Minister, like Kevin Rudd five years earlier, Tony Abbott was naturally aggrieved, and is now the focus on continuing in-fighting within the Coalition, despite there being two years before the next federal election in 2019. This is fomenting discord, hindering mid-term decision making, and may well hand victory to Labor at the next election.
Under our Constitution the Prime Minister is required to call an election at any time within three years of taking office. Exercise of this discretion has resulted in the average parliamentary term since Federation being just 2 years and 7 months.
It is a call which few leaders would wish to relinquish, but it diverts attention from the serious business of governing and framing legislation in the best interest of the nation to arguing and jostling for power within the party as the next election approaches. Since parties, not voters, elect the leadership, incumbent leaders may be unfairly scrutinized and dumped in favour of contenders perceived to have better prospects for success.
In 1715 UK parliamentary terms were increased to a limit of 7 years, from 3 years, to reduce cost and improve the stability of government. However terms were limited to 5 years in 1911 and in 2011 fixed terms of 5 years were introduced.
In spite of this, UK Prime Minister Theresa May was able to foolishly call an election for 8 June 2017, after a term of just 2 years and 32 days. She lost majority government, and raised questions about her own political nous, and ability to negotiate favourable terms for Britain’s departure from the European Union.