Opinion article

It's a big year for elections – here are five things to watch for as we get closer to the Federal poll

In our third year of the pandemic, Australia will head to the polls to elect a Federal Government and in contrast to the 2019 election, a focus on jobs and growth may not be enough to win voters over. It will be a test for Scott Morrison, the first Prime Minister to run a full term in nearly a decade – no small achievement considering Australia has had seven Prime Ministers in 10 years – and he seems set on holding the position until the last possible minute.

While the timing of the election is essentially his prerogative, it must occur no later than Saturday May 21, and be called a minimum of 33 days before that (April 18).

So, what should we watch for as Australia’s first (and hopefully only) pandemic election unfolds?

Watch the women

The past year has seen women in politics find their voice — from Brittney Higgins to Grace Tame to Julia Banks and Bridget Archer.

Parties are anticipating female voters will be similarly engaged, and we can expect that to be reflected in the style of the campaign. Female voters will be crucial, and policies aimed at women and families will prove pivotal.

Women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, losing more jobs and hours than men, particularly during lockdowns over the two-year period.

Childcare, mental health, family violence, the gender pay gap and mistreatment of women in the workplace will be big topics to engage women, however at this stage both parties are treading carefully.

Keep an eye on the promises 

The release of the 2022 Federal Budget will be a key indicator to the time of the election. If history serves as any indicator, the Budget will be released prior to the election, with an intention to release it on 29 March. If it goes ahead, Australia is left with only three possible election days in May (7, 14 and 21).

There has been a lot of talk about a $16 billion election war chest, which suggests the Budget might be peppered with promises for key seats, but as COVID-19 continues to rampage across the country, there may also be some big-ticket recovery projects on the cards. The low- and middle-income tax offset could well be rolled over again, and stage-three tax cuts are still possible, with support from both sides.

The Opposition’s response, which is usually delivered two days following its release, will be closely monitored to indicate campaign positioning.

How the recent Omicron variant has impacted the country will be reflected in the Budget projections, and there is likely to be big spending in the health sector to ensure hospitals can sustain the duration of the pandemic.

Keep an eye on independents 

A record number of independent candidates and minor parties are vying for seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate as they aim to tap into the voter disquiet with the nine-year-old government.

The increase in independents come as a surge of manoeuvring is visible in pre-election for the seats held by the Coalition.

What worries major parties, in particular the LNP, is that the independent movement is getting more organised.

The targeted seats belong to seats in inner-east Melbourne and the Sydney harbourside normally too secure to command much real love or attention from the government. Voters in these areas are very aware of the power their seat would command in a hung parliament.

The high-profile names emerging as candidates as part of the Voices Of movement could also divert traditional donors from party coffers.

Expect some COVID-19 coordination issues

The pandemic obviously looms large and the fragile recovery will be a major topic for the election.

Labor will target the slow vaccine roll-out and push for reconstruction following the pandemic, while the Coalition will focus on its record in providing economic support programs and its role in managing the early stages of the virus.

The pandemic will also impact the logistics of voting, while continued restrictions could pose a logistical challenge to democracy if they limit the participative aspects of an election.

Possible implications include restrictions on campaign movement, uneven playing fields for candidates, a reduction in the limited officials and volunteers, and international outbreaks affecting out-of-country voting.

Be aware of moving boundaries

A redistribution in any state creates opportunity for seats to have large swings and cause upsets and this election there will be several seats to watch as both WA and Victoria had redistributions in 2021.

The two redistributions mean, based on the 2019 election results, the Coalition goes from 77 to 76 seats and Labor goes from 68 to 69. It should be noted that 76 seats in the House of Representatives is needed for a majority government.

The Morrison government currently holds 10 of WA’s 15 seats, however being one of two big resource states, any slippage from the Coalition’s current holding could cost the government the majority, especially considering we have a Labor State Government which holds an unprecedented and overwhelming majority.

Get ready for an election like no other 

With few journalists game enough to call the election, no confirmed date, a raging pandemic, and some wild cards such as Clive Palmer remaining in the deck, there is a lot still unknown about the 2022 Federal Election.

It will be an interesting one to watch unfold.

This article originally appeared on canningspurple.com

About the authors

Bree Liddell

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Bree is Cannings Purple’s Government Relations Associate Consultant and an Edith Cowan University graduate with a double degree in Politics and International Relations.