Skip to main content

Prime Minister Julia Gillard surprises Australia with election call

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
January 30, 2013 -- Updated 1116 GMT (1916 HKT)
(File photo) Australian PM Julia Gillard said Wednesday that elections would take place in September.
(File photo) Australian PM Julia Gillard said Wednesday that elections would take place in September.
  • Julia Gillard says national elections will take place in September
  • It's unusually advanced notice for elections in Australia
  • Some commentators say it will subject voters to a lengthy ordeal
  • Opposition leader Tony Abbott says he welcomes the announcement

(CNN) -- Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia said Wednesday that national elections would take place in September, giving unusually lengthy notice to voters and her opponents of a hard campaign ahead.

In a speech in the national capital, Canberra, Gillard gave a somber assessment of the economic and social challenges that Australia is facing under her Labor government, which is struggling in opinion polls.

She said that announcing the timetable for the September vote now would end "speculation about election timing" and give "shape and order to the year."

But some commentators suggested that in trying to give the country more clarity, she was in fact creating a drawn-out ordeal for voters.

Australia PM on the attack in sexism row
See Australian prime minister face-plant
Australian PM survives challenge
What causes Australia's 'freaky foam'?

"Julia Gillard has consigned Australians to something approaching a national pregnancy," wrote Tony Wright, national affairs editor at The Age, a daily newspaper.

Federal election campaigns in Australia traditionally last around six weeks, far shorter than presidential races in the United States.

Wright said that a 10 week campaign in Australia in 1984 left voters tired and "tetchy" and hurt the party of the incumbent prime minister at the time, Bob Hawke.

"No more long campaigns became the unbreakable mantra," Wright said, noting that the September 14 date set by Gillard is 32 weeks away.

Gillard, 51, said in her speech Wednesday that the aim of giving such exceptionally advanced notice was to make the year "one not of fevered campaigning, but of cool and reasoned deliberation."

Dennis Shanahan, political editor of The Australian, a national broadsheet newspaper said that although Gillard was giving up the advantage of surprise that she held over the opposition, she would have the chance to leverage the benefits of her incumbency.

"The prime minister has ensured that she will be able to maximize the effect of being in office, governing, working and being in parliament while people see her as the prime minister," Shanahan said.

Her main challenger, Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition, said he welcomed the announcement of the date.

Abbott, 55, said his coalition was "ready" and suggested that the election campaign would focus on themes like tax, regulation and freedoms.

Gillard, who managed to form a government after a tight election in 2010, could have set the election date as late as November 30 under Australia's three-year election cycle.

But Shanahan said he thought she was also moving to head off any potential challenges to her position from within her party.

In the summer of 2010, Gillard replaced the prime minister at the time, Kevin Rudd, whose ratings were suffering after he placed his proposed carbon emissions trading plan on the back burner and introduced a hefty tax on the country's powerful mining industry.

Tensions remained in the party over her ascension to the prime minister's office, with some calling it a palace coup. Rudd unsuccessfully challenged her leadership last year.

Under Gillard's announcement Wednesday, the House of Representatives will be dissolved on August 12.

The elections will involve the entire House of Representatives and half the Senate.

Part of complete coverage on
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0009 GMT (0809 HKT)
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1548 GMT (2348 HKT)
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0507 GMT (1307 HKT)
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
February 5, 2013 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 0006 GMT (0806 HKT)
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
February 6, 2013 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.