It’s the understatement of the year to say the Liberals are in for a very difficult few months until the election, now Tony Abbott has assumed the party’s leadership by one vote (with one informal/abstain vote)
This was as much an ideological contest as a personality contest or one based predominantly on leadership skills. While it is nice to see a contest around policy and ideological arguments, rather than charisma or cuddliness, such a line ball result seems likely to entrench division rather than resolve it.
A single vote win makes it hard enough, but in the absence of anything else, a win is a win and can provide a chance to move forward. But….
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A single vote win with one informal vote somewhat dilutes the definitive nature of the result.
A single vote win with one informal vote and two new people likely to be elected on the weekend to join to the Party Room is worse still.
A single vote win with one informal vote, two new ones set to join and one MP absent ill – who had been seen as a supporter of the losing side – all adds up to making the victory anything but definitive.
And hard times ahead for the Liberals.
Assuming there are not seven Liberals willing to cross the floor and pass the CPRS this week, there is likely to be a majority in the Senate to delay a vote on the legislation, as Steve Fielding has also called for a delay (surely once his wacky Royal Commission idea is quashed he’d support a Senate Committee inquiry as a fallback option) and Nick Xenophon’s past statements suggest he’d have the same view. While there are undoubtedly seven Liberal Senators who support passing the CPRS, I doubt they’d feel like causing more division at this stage.
There are differing views about whether delaying a vote on the CPRS legislation, including by referring it to a Senate Committee, constitutes a ‘failure to pass’ as required under the Constitution to provide a trigger for a double dissolution election. However, I think it is fairly clear it would give sufficient grounds for the government to argue the Senate has ‘failed to pass’ the legislation, which would enable them to successfully request the Governor-General for an election.
It is possible the High Court might think otherwise after the election, if the CPRS is subsequently passed by a joint sitting. But that would just negate the legislation, not the election.
That doesn’t mean the government will call an election on this. Just that they can. The Senate is due to resume on February 2 next year. Calling an election prior to that, so early in the year, is problematic.
But regardless of whether the election is called in January or October – or somewhere in between – it seems likely it will involve significant debate about climate change. Having a solid focus on this most important of issues throughout an election year can only be a good thing.