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‘He has sent signals’: Major parties prepare for spring 2021 federal election

Labor is looking to lock in candidates for lower house seats between February and April – though seat re-distributions in Victoria and WA will cause a delay in those two states.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday “2022’s the election year, that’s when it’s due, [there is] too much to do this year. This year is about jobs, and that’s where my focus is”.

The Coalition holds a small lead in published opinion polls, the prime minister enjoys strong approval ratings and the government has benefited from a bump that most incumbent leaders around the world have received during the pandemic.

Australia could return to the polls by the end of the year.

Australia could return to the polls by the end of the year. Credit:Louise Kennerley

At the same time, with the roll out of vaccines brought forward to February and the economy showing encouraging signs of growth, the second half of 2021 would appeal for myriad reasons.

To report this story, the Sun-Herald and Sunday Age spoke to 11 current and former members of the ministry and shadow ministry as well as party officials and senior advisers. All agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, so they could freely discuss internal deliberations.

One senior Coalition figure said the party would be “ready to go in the second half of the year” and that “I don’t think we will be coming back [to Canberra for parliament] after June 30″.

“The PM is keeping his cards close to his chest, but he has sent signals. The justification for an election will have to be solid because of the pandemic, but there are meetings of federal and state directors underway”.

Another senior government figure said that, assuming the roll-out of the vaccine proceeded smoothly, “why wouldn’t the prime minister go in October?”

However, both MPs stressed the prime minister was not focused, yet, on locking in a date for the second half of 2021 and that the pandemic could derail any possible plan for an early poll.

The Prime Minister played down the prospect of 2021 election during a meeting of Coalition MPs late last year.

The Prime Minister played down the prospect of 2021 election during a meeting of Coalition MPs late last year.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

On the Labor side, a similar view has developed about the likelihood of an election towards the back end of 2021.

“It could happen any time after July this year, but with the football finals that narrows it down to spring or early summer. And if you look at the sitting calendar [which contains a six week non-sitting period from September 3 to October 17] it reinforces the view that the election this year,” said one Labor MP.

Another Labor figure predicted the economy would be in better shape in 2021, compared to 2022, because of the long term economic impact of the coronavirus on some of Australia’s major trading partners.

Therefore, he predicted, “Morrison wants it this year, and he’ll decide around budget time [in May]. I think it will be October or November”.

ABC election analyst Antony Green said an election for the House of Representatives could be held at any time between August 2021 and August 2022 – but for the Senate, the latest date was May 2022.

Any later than that and a separate half Senate election would have to be held, something which has not happened since 1970.

Realistically, according to Mr Green, the second half of 2021 was shaping up as the likely time because of the South Australian state election in March 2022, public holidays in the first half of next year, the desire to avoid a half-Senate election and the May 2022 budget.

“The second half of this year is more likely. A very common date has been October or November though Gillard and Rudd brought it forward a little bit to August or September.”

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