In a highly unusual move, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced the next federal election date almost 8 months ahead of time.
Parliament will be dissolved on 12 August this year and the election date will be Saturday 14 September (coinciding with the most holy date on the Jewish calendar Yom Kipur and AFL semi-finals).
Prime Minister Gillard was speaking at the National Press Club today when she surprised members of the Canberra press gallery with an announcement that absolutely nobody saw coming.
The Prime Minister said that she wanted to give the business community and the Australian electorate certainty and the ability to plan for the year ahead.
“I do so not to start the nation’s longest election campaign – quite the opposite,” Ms Gillard told reporters and staff in Canberra.
“It should be clear to all which are the days of governing and which are the days of campaigning… Announcing the election date now enables individuals and business, investors and consumers to plan their year.”
Despite Ms Gillard’s assurances that this announcement will not mean a 227 day election campaign (compared with the usual 30-45 day campaign), there is no doubt this was a highly political move.
This announcement will have taken the Opposition by surprise and puts immense pressure on the gaffe-prone Tony Abbott to remain mistake-free for a longer period. It also means that the Opposition’s refusal to announce costing and details of their policies until an election campaign was called, will become null and void. The Coalition will be forced to reveal details far earlier than they would otherwise have been expected to.
On the other hand, the ability to name the date of an election at the last possible moment – and to your own political advantage – has always been considered a very important move in a Prime Minister’s tactical arsenal. That element of surprise is now no longer a tactic available to Ms Gillard.
The Prime Minister has confirmed that she consulted the Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan and other senior Labor colleagues ahead of today’s announcement. She has also confirmed the Government is committed to education and disability reform in the coming year – something that is likely to require significant budgetary cuts elsewhere.
Ms Gillard’s announcement will be met with positivity by the business community and has already been welcomed by independent MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakshott. The announcement is also likely to open up a debate about fixed term elections, as are currently in place for Australia’s state and territory parliaments.
“Time is not for wasting. So decisions have to be made about how we use our time this year,” Ms Gillard said today.
Ms Gillard explained that she wants to be transparent and upfront with the Australian people who have been frustrated by “months of boiling hot political debate with most of it somewhat ironically about global warming…. In 2013, I am determined their patience is not tried again,” Ms Gillard said.
Here are some of the reactions (both serious and not so serious) to the Prime Minister’s announcement from Twitter:
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Do you think this was a smart political move by Julia Gillard? What sort of issues will affect how you vote in the September election? Who will you be voting for?