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Time’s Up: When Parliament expired

  • Written byCampbell Rhodes
  • DateFri, 19 Feb 2016

On this day in 1910, the term of the Commonwealth Parliament ran out.

No election was called early, and the House of Representatives served for a complete and full term. This was and remains the only time this has ever happened. When the House of Representatives is elected, it serves a three-year term unless it is dissolved early. It can be dissolved at any time by the Governor-General, always with the advice of the government.

That three year term begins not from the date of the election, but the date on which the Parliament first meets after the election. The 3rd Parliament was elected on 12 December 1906, but owing to the Christmas period, it didn’t convene until 19 February 1907. That meant the Parliamentary term would expire on 19 February 1910. You would expect the government would have called an election for the end of 1909 or very early 1910. But, this one and only time, the parliament was not dissolved early.

All of the other parliaments have been dissolved before the three years was up, usually so the government could hold an election on a date it felt was suitable. Sometimes this was halfway through the term, such as in 1955 or 1984, but usually within a few months of the three year maximum.

In 1910, the term expired without an election having been called. An election was then scheduled for 13 April 1910. Well before that, the campaigning had begun, and everyone was proceeding as if there was going to be an election. Most people probably didn’t even notice the odd timing.

Why didn’t Alfred Deakin, the Prime Minister of the day, call the election earlier? Possibly he didn’t see any pressing need to hurry, since the campaign was well under way, and there doesn’t seem to have been any pressure on him. Or maybe he thought he was going to lose and wanted to put it off as long as he could. He did, in fact, lose in the end:  Andrew Fisher and the Labor Party won the 1910 election with the first ever majority in the House. Deakin never held office again.


Campbell Rhodes is MoAD's Copyright and Research Coordinator.