When Is The Next Federal Election?

There's a lot of factors in play, and a few elections coming next year to worry about.

These days it seems we're never really out of election season, with parties continually road-testing campaign strategies and endlessly slamming their opponents. But right now we're at a point where an election could be called literally any day, depending on the whims of Malcolm Turnbull, so speculation is mounting as to when exactly we will all be heading back to the polls.

But there's a complicated set of overlapping timetables which dictate when a federal election can be held, and considering a bunch of other factors -- like other state elections, school holidays and even football grand finals -- there is only a very small number of dates when a federal poll could feasibly fall.

Here's what you need to know

When can the next federal election be?

Basically, we are guaranteed to be lining up at a local school hall, chowing down on a democracy sausage, by May 18, 2019.

Bill Shorten tucks into a sausage sambo on election day 2016. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The last federal election was held on July 2, 2016. Half the Senate is up for election at any poll, and parliament rules say the half-Senate election must take place in time for the new Senate to be in place within three years of the last poll. Taking into account the time needed to count votes and declare winners, that means the Senate election must be held by May 18.

The House of Representatives election doesn't need to be held until November, but convention since the 1970s has been that the Senate and House elections will be held at the same time; so essentially, May 18 is the last possible day. Section 28 of the Constitution says:

Every House of Representatives shall continue for three years from the first meeting of the House, and no longer, but may be sooner dissolved by the Governor-General.

In practice, as we saw in 2016, that means the Prime Minister can ask the G-G to dissolve parliament and go to an early election. So while we've got to have an election by law before May 18, Turnbull can pull the trigger early.

If you're confused, or want to learn more about this, there's some more detailed info on the Parliamentary Library's website.

People vote at Parramatta Town Hall in 2016 (Photo by Cole Bennetts/Getty Images)
But when will it actually be?

That's the big question, and there aren't a huge number of possible dates. Here are the factors in play:

  • The election must be on or before May 18
  • Elections must be held on a Saturday
  • You must give 33 days notice before an election, meaning it can't be held before mid-September, even if it was called today
  • Governments usually don't schedule elections during school holiday periods
  • Governments would avoid an election over Easter, as well as the NRL and AFL grand final weekends
  • It's unlikely to be held over the Christmas or New Year period
  • There are a few state elections in the next few months, which will have to be avoided

Victorian voters go to the polls on November 24 for the state election, while Tasmania and Victoria will hold local council elections in October and November. Then it's the NSW state election on March 23, 2019. There's no rule saying state and federal election campaigns can't overlap, but politicians would be worried about exhausting voters or leading them to become upset or angry at the political bombardment.

There has also never been a federal election in January or February.

(AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Turnbull could ignore any of these factors and choose an election whenever he wants. But considering all those options, many are tipping an election in April, to be called following the NSW state election. But there's also the possibility of getting in early and pulling the trigger next month for an election in October before Victoria's state government goes to the polls.

You've also got to take into account that governments read opinion polls. The government is on a historic losing streak in the two-party preferred vote on the Newspoll figures, but the numbers are very tight now, so any small win that ticks the numbers back the Coalition's way might just be enough of a trigger to persuade them to go to an election. That could come absolutely anytime.

The government was hoping for a confidence boost or poll bounce at the super Saturday by-elections, but they were trounced.

October or April look the most likely options for the big dance.

Who will be up for election?

Every single member in the House -- formerly 150 members, now 151 thanks to a new redistribution creating a new seat in Victoria -- and half the Senate.

'How do they choose which half of the Senate?', you may ask. Well, normally half the Senate is elected at any one time, so there's an overlap between senators who have been in parliament for three years and have three left, and new ones who have six years to go.

Shorten and Longman MP Susan Lamb celebrate her super Saturday win (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

But since all the senators were booted out at the double-dissolution, they gave six-year terms to senators with the highest number of votes, and three-year terms for those with the lower number of votes.

The likes of Brian Burston and Fraser Anning, Sarah Hanson-Young, Derryn Hinch and David Leyonhjelm are up for election in the next few months, but Eric Abetz, Richard Di Natale, Pauline Hanson, Penny Wong and Cory Bernardi are safe until 2022. There's a bigger breakdown here.