Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced the federal election date as September 14 this year.
In a surprise move, Ms Gillard broke with tradition to set the election date months before the polling date - effectively setting the country up for a campaign season lasting more than seven months.
"Time is not for wasting. So decisions have to be made about how we use our time this year," Ms Gillard said in a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra.
It comes as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott launched a mini-campaign, ahead of the first week of parliament next week.
September 14 is well before the latest possible election date for the House of Representatives of November 30, 2013.
The writs for the election will be issued on August 12, setting up a short parliamentary year until the election. This will see the House of Representatives dissolved and half the Senate up for re-election.
The election date falls on the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur. Liberal frontbencher and member for Wentworth Malcolm Turnbull said he was deeply disappointed about the clash.
"Deeply disappointed that Julia Gillard chose to hold the election on Yom Kippur - the most solemn and sacred day of the Jewish year," he posted on Twitter.
The Prime Minister explained that she did not announce the date today to start the nation's ''longest election campaign''.
"It should be clear to all which are the days of governing and which are the days of campaigning," she said.
Ms Gillard said that last year Australians' patience was tried by "months of boiling hot political debate with most of it somewhat ironically about global warming".
"In 2013, I am determined their patience is not tried again," she said.
Ms Gillard said that not everything about the "tenor and temperature" of the debate in the coming election year was in her control.
"But I can act to clear away the carry-on that comes with speculation about when the election will be held," she said.
"I can create an environment in which the nation's eyes are more easily focused on the policies, not the petty politics. I can act so Australia's Parliament and government serves their full three-year-term."
Ms Gillard said that she had always said that the parliament would serve a full term.
"There's only a limited number of dates on which the election could held," Ms Gillard said, saying she had thought about the election date over the summer.
She said she had consulted Treasurer Wayne Swan and a few senior colleagues about the election date.
The move has been welcomed by independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, who were also told of the date ahead of Ms Gillard's announcement.
"The early announcement of the federal election date of September 14 is good for the nation," Mr Windsor said.
"I congratulate the Prime Minister on her decision to provide the Australian people with some direction and certainty as to when they will go to the polls."
Greens leader Christine Milne said everyone knew an election would be held this year but the announcement would put an end to speculation about exactly when.
"It's going to be a great year; it's going to be an exhausting year for everyone in the political process," she said.
Independent South Australian senator Nick Xenophon also welcomed the announcement.
"This is a quasi-fixed term parliament now. I think it is a good for democracy. We all know now when we'll be put out of our misery," he said, adding that it was good for independents who did not have big party machines to back them.
Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie said the early announcement was a positive development but cautioned it would be wasted if it meant there was a seven and a half month campaign.
"Yes, let's talk about the election, but not forget there's still a significant period of this parliament left to run," he said in a statement.
Mr Abbott was in Melbourne this morning, continuing his "mini-campaign". He visited a cancer centre in East Melbourne and attended a community morning tea in Sunbury.
Since the hung parliament in 2010, he has repeatedly called for another election.
Fairfax Media understands that Mr Abbott will argue that in announcing the election date so early, Ms Gillard is trying to shore up her leadership within the Labor Party.
Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey responded to the news by noting on Twitter: "Election on Sept. 14 is before the final budget outcome is revealed for the current year."
Also on Twitter, Queensland Labor MP Graham Perrett greeted the news with enthusiasm.
"Bring it on. Bring it on. Bring it on!" he posted.
His colleague, NSW Labor MP Stephen Jones observed that: "the 2010 election campaign didn't really end. We've had a 2 year campaign already."
Ms Gillard did not say whether she wanted to see fixed-term elections for the federal parliament. "I wasn't making a policy decision about that for the long term."
The Prime Minister said that she had exercised traditional prime ministerial prerogative: "I've just done it in an unusual fashion."
Former Queensland premier Anna Bligh similarly broke with precedent by announcing last year's state election date early, but not with such a long lead time.
On January 25 last year, Ms Bligh announced she would visit the Governor on February 19 to request the dissolution of Queensland Parliament with an election to follow on March 24.
In that case, Ms Bligh justified the early announcement by saying it was needed to give certainty and ensure voters were able to see the final report of inquiry into the devastating 2010-11 floods.
ABC election analyst Antony Green said the move was similar to one taken by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key who announced the election day more than half a year in advance in 2011.
Mr Key had argued then that certainty was needed ahead of the Rugby World Cup because the chance to showcase the country should not be jeopardised by him "playing politics" with the election date.
On Twitter, Mr Green said the nine-month notice period was longer than the three months Sir Robert Menzies gave in 1958 and 1961.