By SAS Group Director Larry Anthony
The odds are shortening for an early double dissolution election. Monday's news poll showing that the Government and ALP are on 50/50 demonstrates that the Turnbull honeymoon is over.
The recent Ministerial scandals, the reshuffle, and the mixed signals from the Government (ranging from the GST retreat to confusion around negative gearing and capital gains) has taken its toll.
In politics, optics is almost everything, and the ALP can take some comfort in the resurgence in their vote. If there is a silver lining it is a wake up call to the Government to get their house in order or face the consequences at the ballot box.
An early election has now become a real option. On Tuesday the Government flagged the Senate Reform Bill, which introduces optional preferential voting. This Reform package will succeed through an unusual alliance formed between the Government, the Greens, and Nick Xenophon. As a result, Independents and minor party members will no longer be able to game the system on a fraction of the vote cast.
The Government is now on a collision course with the Independent Senators, who have declared war on the legislative process in the Senate. Any hope of passing substantive legislation through the Senate has diminished. Even the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) Bill faces an uncertain future.
Should the ABCC legislation be rejected twice, then this could be used as a double dissolution trigger to call an early election. Some tacticians in the Government believe that if all 76 Senators are up for re-election, then the composition of the Senate in the next Parliament may change significantly, favouring a re-elected Coalition Government.
The timelines for a double dissolution are tight. Constitutionally, the Government needs to dissolve the Parliament within 6 months of the anniversary of the next scheduled Federal Election. This means that the Government will have to call the election the day after the Budget (Wednesday 11th May) and hold the election on the 2nd July 2016. Whilst there may be an advantage to the Coalition, this is a high risk strategy.
As it currently stands, there is a game of brinkmanship occurring between the Government and the Senate. If the Independent Senators blink, then the Government might be able to run its full term (September to October 2016) and pass through some of its legislative program. If the Independent Senators and ALP maintain an obstructionist position, the prospects of an early election become a real option.
The battle lines are now being drawn for the election that awaits the nation. Historically, elections in Australia are always close, and 2016 will be no different. "Democracy is [not] perfect or all-wise", as Winston Churchill famously commented, but it is better than all other forms that have been tried and failed.
The parliament is represented:
For a change of government, the Labor Party would have to win 14 seats from the Coalition (Liberal Party and the Nationals). For the Coalition to gain a majority in The Senate, the Liberal Party and the Nationals would need to win an additional 5 Senate seats – most of which would come from independents and/or the Labor Party.