Does the PM have a “Plan B” – or should some pundits get a life?
What do Canberra watchers do when there’s no-one in Canberra? Play make believe.

This time a year ago, there was much talk of a double dissolution
election. It’s now received wisdom that there won’t be a
DD. Yours truly humbly claims credit for first insisting there
wouldn’t be.

However, since Parliament rose a fortnight ago, an audacious DD scenario has suddenly emerged.

Is it plausible – or just the product of overactive imaginations deprived of the distraction of Question Time?

Picture this. Faced with a less than even chance against Mark
Latham, John Howard decides it’s crash through or crash. The
Prime Minister decides he not only has nothing to lose but also the
right to take the ship down with all hands

He bundles up all the legislation the Senate won’t pass and rolls the double dissolution dice.

If he loses, he loses. If he wins, well…

If he wins the Government may have more Senate seats and be better placed for the following election.

The scenario depends on the last set of Morgan Poll results. They
put Labor on 45.5 per cent, the Government on 41.5, the Greens on
seven, the Dems on two and gave “others” six per cent.

The advocates of this theory say these figures at a half-Senate
election would leave the Upper House with 34 representatives from the
ALP, 29 from the Coalition, six Greens, three Dems and four
crossbenchers.

Labor and the Greens would dominate proceedings. The
crossbenchers would lose all their negotiating power, all their
influence, all their media space and – quite possibly – their seats the
next time round.

When they run the figures using the lower quota for election that
applies at a double dissolution, they come out with 35 Labor Senators,
32 from the Coalition, four Greens, one Dem and four crossbenchers.

Labor and the Greens could still dominate proceedings, but…

There would be fewer Greens to begin with. They would have less
moral authority – and moral authority matters to Green voters.

Crikey readers know the Greens are just another political party, but at
the moment they seem to have enough punters fooled. If there were
as many crossbenchers as Greens but if they were steamrolled by
shrubhuggers day in, day out, the party of virtue would soon look as
brutal and cynical as any other party.

The Dems would be as good as dead. Neither major party would mourn their passing.

And there would be more Coalition Senators.

Plausible?

Well, this is very much a “Plan B” – or even a plan C or D or E – scenario.

First there’s the Budget – Plan A. That gives the Government huge scope to turn things around.

Then there’s the post Budget period and time for fine-tuning – time to tweak Plan A.

Howard only needs to reach for Plan B if Plan A has failed.

The Budget might flop. It might be dead in the water by
June. But the last federal election was on November 10
2001. That still gives the Government four months to find a
rabbit in the hat before the election anniversary rolls around.

Heaven knows what Howard might be able to fish out. He was being
written off this time in that election year – but still worked magic.

And while it mightn’t look good, remember that under the letter of the
law the Government doesn’t need to go to the polls until 16 April 2005
– a year and day from now.

We don’t know what sleight of hand John Howard might pull in that time
– but it’s likely to be more impressive than conjuring up maybes from a
poll no-one takes that seriously.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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