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There is no logic in longer terms for federal government

By Scott Prasser - posted Wednesday, 7 February 2024

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's recent comments that federal parliament's "terms are too short with just three years" has raised expectations for a referendum for four-year fixed terms if his government is re-elected next year.

A referendum is required because s28 of the Australian constitution stipulates a maximum of three-year terms for the House of Representatives but with flexibility to go earlier if needed.

Significantly, at federation, Australia did not follow the United Kingdom's then seven-year terms or the United States' four-year terms for presidents.


An argument for four-year terms is that it gives government more time to develop policies with a long-term view and less driven by the electoral cycle. Governments would be more willing to take those responsible "tough" decisions without fear or an eye to the next election.

Another, according to the Museum of Democracy is that four-year fixed terms would mean fewer elections, save money, and reduce alleged voter election fatigue.

Four-year terms would also provide a more stable environment for business investment, stop disruptive speculation about election dates and remove an incumbent government's advantage on that score.

And last, as the Prime Minister reminded us, everyone is doing it - the states and territories and most countries overseas - so, why not Australia?

These arguments are made more as statements of faith, than based on real evidence.

For instance, countries with longer terms have not performed better than Australia in running their economies or implementing needed reforms.


Neither the United Kingdom and France with five-year terms nor the United States with four, are exemplars of good policy practice or reform initiatives.

Neither have Australian states or territories with their fixed four-year terms been more accountable, reined in overspending, reduced waste, or adopted a long-term view on anything.

They limp and react from crisis to crisis.

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This article was first published in the Canberra Times.

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About the Author

Dr Scott Prasser has worked on senior policy and research roles in federal and state governments. His recent publications include:Royal Commissions and Public Inquiries in Australia (2021); The Whitlam Era with David Clune (2022) and the edited New directions in royal commission and public inquiries: Do we need them?. His forthcoming publication is The Art of Opposition reviewing oppositions across Australia and internationally. .

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