Tonight Labor Leader Anthony Albanese will deliver his Budget-in-Reply speech to the House of Representatives, and the work of the 46th Parliament of Australia will - for all intents and purposes – come to a close.
Whether the Prime Minister visits the Governor General this weekend to formally request an election, or time in the next fortnight, this Parliament will not meet again.
It’s a Parliament that has – like the rest of the world – learned new ways of remote working as a result of the Covid pandemic, and for the first time in living memory its deliberations have been closed to the Australian public on many occasions.
In another more recent piece of history, Scott Morrison becomes the first Prime Minister to survive an entire term without being dismissed by his or her own team since John Howard between 2004 and 2007.
So now to the Federal Election. The Morrison Government begins the race well behind – not only in the opinion polls, but also as a result of electoral redistributions, the defection of a sitting MP and the inevitable burden of almost nine years’ incumbency.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s Budget was clearly and cleverly targeted at the groups the Coalition needs to win back in order to hold office. The government has shown it is sensitive to cost-of-living pressures, and has responded with tax rebates and a temporary reduction in the fuel excise.
It has highlighted the record low unemployment rate, and claims Australia has recovered from the Covid downturn faster than most of the world.
Labor has responded by accusing the government of having no long-term plan for economic recovery or wage growth, that it is a government out of ideas. Expect to see these themes amplified in Anthony Albanese’s reply tonight and in coming weeks during the formal campaign.
The final possible date for an election is May 21, which means Scott Morrison can wait until April 18 to visit the Governor-General, allowing for the mandatory minimum 33-day campaign. But that would give away the final advantage in office – the element of surprise.
Leaving some doubt about the date gives Coalition tacticians an advantage over Labor in booking television and digital ads, billboard and mail delivery prior to making the announcement.
So expect to see the white car with the C1 numberplate of the Prime Minister making its way to Yarralumla as early as this weekend, for an election on May 7 or 14 (with a long campaign traditionally favoured by governments starting from well behind).
By the time of our next Inside Word, we will be well and truly in the throes of a Federal Election campaign, where the central arguments will be around whether it is or is not the right time for a change.
Polls and punters both currently predict that voters will decide that it is time. If they do, the next time Anthony Albanese addresses the Parliament after tonight, he will be standing on the other side of the House of Representatives, as Australia’s 31 Prime Minister.