Recently, Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the federal election for the 21st of May. Thus, enrolment to vote closed in mid-April – a relatively quick process following Morrison’s announcement. However, you may have seen a lot of media recently discussing exactly why it took so long for Australians to have an election date.
Legally, there must be a minimum of 33 days of electoral campaigning before the polling day. In accordance with this, Morrison’s options were fairly limited, and speculation rose enormously as the predicted dates in May drew closer. But in recent months, despite a campaign not actually being underway, you could be forgiven for thinking Australia was mere days away from the polls.
Let’s use Kooyong, the electorate where MLC is located and the surrounding suburbs of Kew and Hawthorn, as an example. Around this area, you’ve likely seen enormous amounts of political advertising (posters, billboards, signage in front yards etc.) for the Kooyong federal candidates. Most notably, the Liberal candidate Josh Frydenberg and independent opponent Dr Monique Ryan, as well as Piers Mitchem for the Greens and Dr Peter Lynch for Labor.
This amount of advertising is often seen in seats as highly contested as Kooyong, particularly as Frydenberg is the current Australian Treasurer and the seat holds much name value. Advertising is actually a key aspect when discussing why it took so long to call an election (and the role of taxpayers in it). Taxpayers cannot legally pay for electoral propaganda (example: the Josh Frydenberg billboards), but they can and do pay for other government advertising outside of elections, like departmental TV ads.
A striking statistic revealed last year estimates that Australian taxpayers paid at least $59m for political advertising in the leadup to this year’s election.
However, the minute an election date is called, taxpayers can no longer pay for government advertising, as this qualifies as related to the election. This may have played a part in Scott Morrison’s hesitancy to announce a date, as marketing of any kind is valuable leading up to an election.
Additionally, the Morrison government would likely have waited to call a date until their party (the Liberal National Party) was reasonably favoured in the pre-election polls. This relates to a number of factors – firstly, events surrounding the election date that have the potential to influence voters. In the case of the LNP, global events like the war in Ukraine can have a heavy influence on the voting population. The Coalition tends to favour defence initiatives, so the political unrest continuing overseas may factor into voters’ choices towards them.
Notably, the Federal Budget was also delivered on the 29th of March. It has been postulated that the Morrison government may have wished to withhold an election date until some aspects of the Budget were announced, including one-off cost-of-living payments on welfare and pensions, to further influence voters. The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, described the Budget as “a cynical exercise by a cynical government, that doesn’t have a plan for Australia’s future.” Elsewhere, these kinds of direct links from policy to votes have been described as “vote-grabbing” and “election-motivated.”
Whatever your opinion of the political parties and policies for the upcoming election, it is evident that many factors come into play in the timing and announcement of an election date – something Australians have witnessed in the lead-up to many past polls.
And as May 21st approaches, the electoral race is more complex than ever before.
Gordon, J. (2022). Federal election: Kooyong independent Monique Ryan insists she is ‘cleanskin’ despite former Labor membership. Retrieved 16 April 2022, from https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/kooyong-independent-insists-she-is-cleanskin-despite-former-labor-membership-20211221-p59jde.html
Henderson, A. (2022). Is there a case for Scott Morrison to call the federal election now? Retrieved 16 April 2022, from https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/is-there-a-case-for-scott-morrison-to-call-the-federal-election-now/0tjqptsyx
Karp, P. (2022). Australian taxpayers funding $59m in government ads in run-up to 2022 election. Retrieved 16 April 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/nov/15/australian-taxpayers-funding- 59m-in-government-ads-in-run-up-to-2022-election
Martin, S. (2022). Anthony Albanese labels federal budget a ‘cynical exercise’ aimed only at re-election. Retrieved 16 April 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/mar/30/anthony-albanese-labels-federal-budget-a-cynical-exercise-aimed-only-at-re-election