What would happen if an Australian prime minister refused to concede defeat?

Adam M Wakeling
7 min readMar 6, 2021

It’s an unlikely scenario, but we have a rough idea how it might play out.

Antony Green on the ABC on election night (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

It is the night of a federal election, sometime in the future. It’s clear the Government is doing badly, losing seat after seat. Antony Green projects that the Government has been defeated. TV stations turn to the governing party’s campaign HQ, where the Prime Minister is taking the podium before a crowd of cheering supporters to give what everyone assumes must be a concession speech. Instead, they insist they’ve been robbed of a landslide victory by widespread fraud, and refuse to concede defeat.

With former U.S. President Donald Trump’s acquittal in his second impeachment trial, Australians have watched this exact scenario play out across the Pacific. Trump famously claimed victory even as the count turned decisively against him, and he and his supporters fought a fruitless two-month legal and political battle to try to have the election results overturned.

But what would happen in Australia? There are obvious differences between the American presidential system and our parliamentary one, and we have no precedent to work on, but we can follow the process under our Constitution and Electoral Act from start to finish.

How an Australian Federal Election Works

Before trying to answer this question, it helps to understand exactly how an Australian federal election works. Most Australians only ever see the Prime Minister call the election and the media announce the result on election night. But more happens behind the scenes.

A federal election is a combination of 151 separate elections for members of the House of Representatives and eight elections for senators from the six states and two territories. Because governments are formed in the House of Representatives, I will focus on the process there.

The Constitution gives the Governor-General the power to dissolve the Parliament and call an election. By convention, the Governor-General will only call an election on the advice of the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister asks the Governor-General to call an election, he or she will issue a writ — a legal order — directing the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to hold the…

Adam M Wakeling

Adam Wakeling is an Australian writer, lawyer and historian. He is online at https://www.amwakeling.com/ and on Twitter @AdamMWakeling.