House of Representatives fixed terms: the barriers to implementation

16 Nov 2008

As leader of the opposition before the 2007 election, and now as prime minister, Kevin Rudd promised that a constitutional referendum to introduce fixed House terms would be held on the same day as the next Commonwealth election. The fact that Australian prime ministers have the power to call an election before the expiry of a parliament has long been a matter of debate, with many observers suggesting that House of Representatives terms be fixed.

In 2003–04, the Parliamentary Library published a paper which discussed four-year terms for the House of Representatives. This included some discussion of fixed terms. The Library has decided to re-address the issue of parliamentary terms, but focusing on the specific issue of fixed terms. The paper begins with a discussion of the issues surrounding fixed terms, examines what might be proposed in a fixed term referendum, notes the possible complications of changing the length of House terms and introducing simultaneous elections, outlines the difficulties involved in attempting to amend the Constitution, and proposes a compromise amendment that may assist in the passage of a fixed term constitutional alteration.

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