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Let's talk: Should we have fixed four-year terms?

Let's talk: Should we have fixed four-year terms?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull telephoned Opposition Leader Bill Shorten after the Labor leader said on Sunday he would like to push for the change, which is part of his party's policy platform.

The change would require a constitutional amendment via a referendum, which means a majority of voters nationally.

"The average life of a federal government is two-and-a-half years, not even three years", Mr Shorten told Insiders.

"Governments can be more daring and more determined if they're not constantly thinking about the next election", he told ABC television.

But prime ministers in Canada and presidents in the United States enjoy four years between polls. Bill Shorten has pushed the message that Labor would tackle inequality and threats to social cohesion as a priority if it won government, prompting claims he is edging the party cautiously to the left.

Under the current system, an election must be held three years or less from when parliament first sat after the previous poll.

Mr Shorten has backed the idea of four-year terms in the past, but never in such strong terms. However, the PM and Shorten will discuss the issue when they next meet.

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The data shows that in 77 examined countries' Lower Houses - like Australia's House of Representatives - five year terms are dominant. And that's just the start of the complications, because you'd also need to figure out how double dissolutions would work as well as what to do about Senate terms - would they be shortened to four years or lengthened to eight?

Three-year terms are unusual internationally.

In the interview on Sunday, Shorten said that Australia "needs four-year terms" in order to ensure that the government can get on with delivering its vision. Fixed-term parliaments have been introduced in all states and territories, some by Liberal governments, others by Labor ones.

Queensland was the last. "What this country needs is long-term policy making".

And there is support within the Government after a prominent backbencher earlier this year introduced a Bill in Parliament to move to four years.

The think tank's executive director, Ben Oquist, wrote on Twitter that legislating four-year terms would be "too hard", but that "the answer" is to fix the three-year terms instead of allowing the government of the day to set the date.

But a spokesman for Mr Turnbull played down suggestions the Government was offering bipartisan support for the idea.