Timing for the 2022 federal election
With 2021 rapidly drawing to a close, it seems probable that the next federal election will happen in the first half of 2022.
The timing for federal elections is determined by a combination of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Act) and the Australian Constitution. The exact technicalities are discussed in detail in a Parliamentary Library publication; however, the abbreviated version is that, if the Government intends to hold a normal (House of Representatives and half-Senate) federal election, election day must be no later than 21 May 2022.
The Act requires at least 33 days between the issue of the writ (the writ is an instruction to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to hold an election) and polling day (although it can be as long as 68 days after Parliament is dissolved). As the election date is generally not known until the Prime Minister calls an election, the election campaign generally happens in the period between the issue of the writs and polling day. Election day must be a Saturday, so it is possible to determine the last possible day on which an election must be called to be held on a certain day.
The minimum 33-day requirement means that it is now too late to hold a 2021 election. A federal election has also never been held in January or February—there is not any legal prohibition on doing so, but governments appear to be reluctant to force people to consider politics during their summer holidays.
If we assume that the Government will avoid a January or February election, there are 12 Saturdays between 5 March 2022 and 21 May 2022 on which the election could be held. Not all of these Saturdays are equally likely to be election day—the election is unlikely to be on the Easter (16 April 2022) or ANZAC Day long weekends (23 April 2022).
The Government has issued a parliamentary sitting calendar indicating that it intends to hold the federal Budget on 29 March 2022. The Government can change the sitting calendar, and there is no guarantee that the Budget will be held on that day however if it is that only leaves 3 possible election days (7, 14 and 21 May).
Any 2022 election held before 7 May 2022, would, according to the proposed sitting calendar, only have the Parliament sit during the February sitting weeks (and only the first week for a 19 March election). This means that any legislation the Government wants to pass in the current term would need to be passed by both Houses by the end of that sitting. An election on 14 or 21 May would potentially allow the March and April sitting periods to also go ahead.
The South Australian state election is due on 19 March 2022; however, that election can be deferred so as not to clash with a federal election (see section 28 of the South Australian Constitution).
It is popularly held that governments try to avoid holding elections during school holidays, and while the 2019 election day (18 May 2019) avoided the school holidays, the election period incorporated the Easter long weekend. The Act requires various events happen certain periods after the issue of the writ, such as the close of nominations and the commencement of postal and pre-poll voting, and in 2019 some dates needed to be adjusted to ensure that the early voting period did not run over the Easter long weekend.
The passage of the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Counting, Scrutiny and Operational Efficiencies) Act 2021 in August 2021 reduced the early voting period to no more than 12 days, and only three 2022 dates would include Easter or ANZAC Day in the early voting period (two of which are unlikely election days due to Easter and ANZAC Day).
The table below notes the relevant dates and some consideration around those dates:
David James Connolly