The Federal Election Is Unofficially Underway — Here’s What You Need to Know in Preparation

federal election australia

Election season unofficially began at the start of December when both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Anthony Albanese held events to drum up support and take potshots at each other.

Morrison chose the Bathurst 1000 race to talk up his government’s apparent vaccine successes and take photos in supercars however the punters didn’t appear to appreciate his presence as he was reportedly booed.

Albanese, by contrast, chose Sydney’s inner-western suburb of Ashfield, launching election pledges on higher education and climate change and setting up the campaign to run against the failures of Morrison’s government.

While it might seem like we had a federal election just the other week, in fact, the last one was in 2019 and a whole lot has happened since then. We’ve had the Black Summer Bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the looming climate crisis bearing down on us. Not to mention the numerous scandals and reckonings captured in Australia’s #MeToo movement and the continuing tragedy of Indigenous deaths in police custody.

While we’re still a good few months out from the ballot box, the drumbeat of the federal election is only getting louder so we thought now would be the best time to get ahead of it and explain exactly what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and whos likely to emerge the winner.

Here’s everything you need to know about Australia’s upcoming federal election.

When is the Federal Election?

The Australian Constitution states that an election must be called every three years. As the last one took place on 21 May 2019, the deadline for holding one is 21 May 2022.

Only the Prime Minister has the power to call an election and there has already been a lot of speculation around when exactly he might do that. The constitution also states that at least 33 days of campaigning – around 5 weeks – must be granted before an election, however they are often announced much further out than that.

Federal elections, and all other elections, have to be held on a Saturday, but, as the ABC wrote in September, not all Saturdays are equal. As the nation is largely in Summer wind-down mode during January, an election this month or the following are unlikely as political messaging will struggle to breakthrough. Morrison will also be looking to avoid key sporting and major national events or long weekends, which actually narrows down the dates pretty considerably.

The ABC called March the most likely month for an election in 2022 however recent events suggest the PM could be eyeing up May as the date.

The recent Omicron wave has wiped out the prospects of a snap election being called any time soon. The absolute farce Aussies have experienced over the past few weeks, with testing sites being closed, enormous queues forming, and of course, the chronic lack of rapid antigen tests has pushed back any chances of an early election.

The PMs insistence that “can-do capitalism” would solve the medical supply issue has fallen resolutely flat, as has his idea that undercutting pharmacies by offering free RATs would be unfair economically. Won’t somebody please think of big pharma?

Morrison is likely to want to put as much distance from, well, himself, and the ballot box as possible and the fact that the 2022-2023 federal budget has been brought forward to 29 March next year is telling. Budgets are almost always delivered in May, suggesting that the government will be going into an election with their spending for the next year laid out and will want to give themselves as long as possible to get that messaging across.

Bringing the election down to the deadline could be a safe strategy, as it will hopefully allow the country to see more economic growth and recovery after the omicron wave, which is predicted to peak in the next few weeks.

On the other hand, it means that unpredictable events, like the rise of a new variant, could derail things and leave the government looking badly prepared for another term in office.

What Are the Key Policies?

The election, as it stands, is likely to be fought over a few key issues. The biggest of these, and the most tricky to manage is climate change and the environment.

Neither party is likely to do well on this issue, but, with Morrison having presided over the climate disaster of Black Summer and disappearing on holiday at the height of the crisis, it’s likely that the Coalition will fare worse in this area. Albanese launched his party’s new climate targets over the weekend, committing to a 43% reduction in emissions by 2030. While it’s likely to play well amongst voters who see climate change as the biggest issue of the day, arguably a sizable majority, it also leaves the party open to attack from the familiar rhetoric of destroying business by sidelining Australia’s most profitable industries, the fossil fuel sector. Already, Morrison has been playing up the link between Labor and the Greens by arguing that Labor would need Green support to form a government and that their more ambitious climate policies would come part and parcel with Albanese.

The economy, as always, is also going to be a key contest, with both parties seeking to be considered the most trustworthy with the nation’s finances. The Coalition’s tax cuts and support of businesses during the pandemic are likely to be foundational to their campaigning while hitting out at Labor for the largely unfounded claim of being irresponsible with the nation’s finances owing to their spending in the global financial crisis of 2008. Labor has preempted a lot of this by offering up modelling showing that their plans would create 604,000 new jobs and attract $52 billion in private investment as they seek to overhaul the nation’s power supply and infrastructure to prepare for a greener economy.

Policies aside, emotion is what elections typically come down to and this time around it is trust that will be the deciding factor. Albanese spent much of his time on Sunday criticising Morrison’s track record on honesty and integrity, something that the PM appears to be faltering in at the polls. Morrison too has leaned into this debate by saying that “There’ll be a lot of noise but the only way you really understand what a Labor government will do is what they did last time they were in government.”

Other issues that are likely to play a significant role in this election are the handling of the COVID pandemic, including lockdowns and perceived government overreach into the lives of everyday people, the education sector, a federal corruption commission, and equality. All of these are inescapable election topics and will be strongly campaigned on by both parties.

Who Will Win the Federal Election?

Early polling has tipped Albanese and Labor as the preferred candidates for victory in 2022. Research conducted by Newspoll found that 47% of respondents expect the opposition to form a government at the next election, compared to just 37 who think the Coalition will be back for a fourth term.

However, polling also put Bill Shorten well ahead in a similar time frame in 2019 when Morrison defied expectations to return to power. The polling was also conducted before Labor released its climate policies and so doesn’t factor that in.

45% however still prefer Morrison as the PM, with only 34% backing Albanese. A further 19% are uncommitted to either.

All 151 seats are up for contest, with either party needing to win 76 to claim victory. Labor needs to win seven seats in order to succeed while the Coalition needs to retain all of its 76 seats in order to hang on.

Last time around, the average national swing was just 1.17% towards the Coalition, however, swings in both directions of up to 10% did happen in certain seats. According to an analysis by Antony Green, the Chief Election Analyst for the ABC, Labor needs an overall swing of 3.3% to claim a majority however he anticipates that key territories like WA and QLD will decide the election and that pandemic politics could play well into Labor’s favour.

The Guardian has also suggested that independents and smaller parties like The Greens and Clive Palmer could play pivotal roles in pulling votes from both Labor and the Coalition and that these changes will be very hard to see before the big event.

They say a week is a long time in politics and, with a possible six months to go before Australia heads to the polls, the election is still very far from decided.

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