Center for Electoral Forensics

Gillard's Snap Decision

[Flag of Australia]The Commonwealth of Australia is a former British colony, and current Commonwealth member, located in Oceania on the world's smallest continent. While its parliament has aspects of Britain's, it actually combines elements of federalism absent in Westminster Parliaments. Thus, the term of office can be shortened by a Prime Minister calling early elections. Prime Minister Gillard did just this.

How will early elections help her?

[julia gillard]

Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia.

Australia's parliamentary system is interesting in that it combines aspects of the British Parliament with aspects of the US Congress. Australia has a federal system; the upper house represents the states, the lower, the people.

The Australian Senate has 76 members. The states elect 12 members each; the territories, two. Senator terms are double House terms; that is, half of the Senate is elected in each parliamentary election. A single transferable voting system is used here. In such a voting system, the voters rank the available candidates. At the first count, all first place votes are used. If seats are still available, the excess votes are distributed according to second place marks on the ballots. This continues until all seats are filled or until the process produces no newly elected persons. Then, the candidate with the fewest votes is removed and those votes are distributed among the remaining candidates.

The purpose of such a system is to allow the people to vote for specific candidates, while providing a measure of proportional representation. It is used in few elections across the world, mainly due to the ambiguities in which ballots get redistributed; different methods may produce different outcomes.

The Australian House of Representatives has 150 members elected from single-seat constituencies. Terms of office are at most three years, and can be shorter if the Prime Minister decides. The voting system used the alternative vote, wherein ballots contain the names of all candidates and the voter ranks them according to preference. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, the votes for the candidate receiving the fewest number of votes are redistributed. This process continues until one candidate has a majority of the vote.

The purpose of such a system is to reduce the cost of ensuring a candidate has the support of a majority of the electorate. It is used much more frequently than is the single transferable vote system (above). The drawback is that the invalidation rate is generally higher in elections that require all candidates to be ranked. If such is not required, then there is no guarantee of an election winner.

Source: ABC News / YouTube

As in most parliamentary systems, the Prime Minister can call early elections. The call is very strategic, and the Prime Minister will call early elections when he (or she) thinks it will help the party. Here, Gilland is calling elections early, but only by a couple months; according to the Australian Constitution, the latest the election could be held is November 30, 2013. That the election is not too early suggests Gilland is not confident Labor will do well. Polling supports this. Currently, Labor trails the opposition coalition by a few percent. However, this is much closer than is has been over much of the past three years.

Perhaps Gilland thinks Labor support will continue to improve?

The other interesting issue is that Gilland made the announcement eight months before the vote (typically, the time span is six weeks). This gives all parties plenty of time to campaign and set the tone of the election. Gilland stated that she did this to force a debate on policy. Labor party members support her in this:

Treasurer Wayne Swan hopes it draws attention to the Coalition's lack of policy costings.

"They cannot be allowed to get to the election without detailing the costing of their policies," he said.

"From the May budget on there is absolutely no excuse for the Opposition to fail to put forward costed policies."

Let us see how this campaign flows.

Official electoral body Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)
Parliamentary election September 14, 2013
Results TBA

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