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The Experts

Election Day: 18 May 2019

Malcolm Mackerras
Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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Among my fan club is a certain Ted Davis from Tugun in Queensland. In a letter to me written on the day of the dissolution of the House of Representatives (Thursday 11 April 2019) he wrote this, among other things: “Some younger members of the public – i.e. those aged about 50 years or younger, probably don’t realise that on Saturday, 18 May, it will be exactly 45 years to the day that the 1974 double dissolution election was held. If you will be doing any television commentating on election day this year, you may like to mention this.”

Unfortunately, this point was quickly noticed by a number of journalists – so much so that it would be old hat news for anyone to mention it on polling day. I sent to him copies of articles illustrating the extent to which journalists were on to this point.

There is another similarity/difference I think should be noticed. The day of the dissolution of the House of Representatives this year was Thursday 11 April. By pure chance, that is the same day of the week and date as that of the double dissolution in 1974. The circumstances, however, could scarcely be more different.

Dissolutions of the House of Representatives are common place but double dissolutions are rare. Their dates have been 30 July 1914, 19 March 1951, 11 April 1974, 11 November 1975, 4 February 1983, 5 June 1987 and 9 May 2016.

The date of expiry of the terms of senators was set at 30 June in 1906. The intention was to make May the normal month for our elections. Scott Morrison, therefore, is to be strongly commended for his choice of date. Almost every other prime minister, however, has called an early election on that way of measuring the word “early”. The great majority of half-Senate elections have been simultaneous with those of the House of Representatives and held in September, October, November or December of the previous year – meaning a long wait for senators to begin their fixed terms of six years.

For these reasons, I think this election is most comparable with that of May 1917, it being the most recent case of a normal joint election held in May. The similarities include that the previous election was caused by a double dissolution. What is unique about these two elections is the simple fact of their being the only cases of our federal elections in which Easter lay between the day of dissolution and polling day. In every other respect, the 1917 and 2019 elections are as different as chalk and cheese.

The above is interesting political trivia. My main purpose today, however, is to notify readers of the fact that I have set up a website. It can be visited at www.malcolmmackerras.com. Its theme is “Unrepresentative Swill”. Readers who wish to understand what I am on about are invited to turn to the commentary page of “The Australian” for Monday 22 April, Easter Monday. In the middle of the page there is an article by me titled “Shenanigans keep voters in the dark like mushrooms” to which the editor added this description: “Blame politicians for the disgrace that is our Senate”. On the same page 10 there are articles by Nick Cater, Paul Fletcher and Maurice Newman. It is a page that is interesting to read!

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2019


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