Why Four-Year Terms for the Federal Government are a Good Idea

PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 04: Opposition Leader, Australian Labor Party Bill Shorten addresses the media at a press conference after visiting a shopping centre on July 4, 2016 in Penrith, Australia. The prospect of a hung parliament looms as counting continues after election night on Saturday, with results too close with neither Labor nor the Liberals able to secure an absolute majority victory. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Bill Shorten’s suggestion that there should be fixed four-year terms for the federal government is a good idea. It has been proposed before and voted down, but recent polls indicate that there is now popular support for the change.

In an unusual expression of bi-partisan support, Malcolm Turnbull has signaled his support for the change, though conceded that it is not a priority.

Every Australian state and territory parliament has introduced four-year terms.

The reason we need four-year terms is because, with the current three-year term limit, the average length of a federal government is roughly two and a half year. That means in an average election cycle, we get six months of post-election hoopla, one year of actual governance, and then close to a whole year of pre-election posturing. It means that we are locked into an almost constant election mode, which might explain why parties are always ready to knife their leader if it will give them a jump in the polls.

As Shorten said:

“Governments can be more daring and determined if they’re not constantly thinking about the next election, if prime ministers of the day don’t have the tempting trigger to pull that if they have an improvement in their short-term position they’ll race to the polls.”

Four-year terms might lead politicians to think about actual long-term governance rather than being focused on the next election which can be as little as two budgets away.