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Federal

Feb 29, 2016

Turnbull's boxed himself into a double dissolution corner

When will the election be called? There are no good options left, writes The Australia Institute executive director Ben Oquist.

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Turnbull coin toss

As noted previously, Malcolm Turnbull boxed himself into a corner on a GST increase. He’s now done the same in relation to calling the election itself. Instead of leaving options open and choosing whichever best suits at the time, the government now faces a set of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemmas in terms of when and how to call an election.

If the Senate again rejects the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) bill, how can the government properly justify not going to a double dissolution? Ever since the trade union royal commission report was handed down at the tail end of last year, the case has been built for why it would be open to the government to call a double dissolution election should the Senate reject the bill. After all the huff and bluster, the government would now be seen to be squibbing it if it didn’t go to the polls on the issue. The boy who cried wolf now has the whole political establishment calling its bluff.

To not call a double dissolution would invite the question of whether the government really cared about the issue, and if not, why would the Senate ever take the threat seriously again?

More concerning for Turnbull is that this is the one issue that unites the Coalition and is not just seen as an Abbott initiative. To not go on the issue would leave his own side wondering what he stands for.

Consider the alternative: the ABCC bill is passed by the Senate. On what grounds can the government realistically call a double dissolution? The Senate would have just delivered the government’s legislation. The government would have to hail back to either the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) legislation or the Registered Organisations legislation, which the Senate rejected some time ago. No double dissolution election was called at the time, and since then the government itself has said one of those bills is outdated legislation that needs updating and strengthening. The crossbenchers’ thank-you cards must be in the post.

Turnbull is concerned he must go to a double dissolution if the legislation is blocked but can’t if the legislation is passed. The decision has been taken out of his hands.

Then there is the election timing, and Turnbull has a minefield to negotiate there too. Going to a double dissolution election after the March sittings would mean a poll before July, which would put the Senate out of sync with the House of Representatives and not allow Turnbull to deliver a budget. However, not going immediately would leave the government looking like the ABCC legislation was not urgent. The economic debate would move on, the budget would take centre stage. Would Turnbull then try to revive the issue?

And anyway what’s the alternative? Wait until they can have a double dissolution election in July? Calling the election the day after the budget, causing constitutional shenanigans about how supply would be arranged, and giving the opposition the budget reply speech as a campaign launch before a 57-day campaign would be a high-risk strategy.

Perhaps what’s left is to dump the double dissolution idea altogether and go full term, as Turnbull has always said was his preference. But that would mean leaving the current crossbench in place for another three years — a crossbench Turnbull has just enraged with Senate voting reform plans. Having put in place the legislation to get rid of them would be self-induced sabotage — for three years.

There are no good options left for Malcolm Turnbull. He’ll have to figure out which is the least bad one, and the longer he takes, the fewer options he’ll have.

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13 comments

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13 thoughts on “Turnbull’s boxed himself into a double dissolution corner

  1. Jaybuoy

    Supamal the master strategist and self professed intellectual giant..and yet here we are waiting for Godwin again..and he reckoned Little Johnny broke the nations heart..

  2. Itsarort

    Not going to a double-dissolution has been a pretty common theme since the time of Howard. And such political tactics were initially designed to annihilate the Democrats.

    By removing the premise that bills MUST be passed, negated the very visable and highly public need to ‘Keep the bastards honest”.

  3. Mike Smith

    Malcolm’s real problem is the very real possibility of losing the election. A DD just increases his exposure.

  4. MJM

    I’m really pleased that Turnbull ousted Abbott in September. First reason was that Abbott was proving to be a terrible PM and, as outlined above, he clearly was and is remaining delusional.

    Second reason is that everyone was pinning such hopes on Turnbull. The PR surrounding him was remarkable and he was going to save us and also save the LNP government. But he hasn’t and he isn’t. The best I could say is that he is not-Abbott. Everything he and his government touches turns to stone. He talks the talk but he doesn’t walk the walk. And his nutty right wing have him beholden to them for his elevation and he doesn’t even have the courage to express the different views we were led to think he held.

    He’s boxed himself in over the DD? I am not surprised! What he wanted was to be PM. He didn’t want to do the lifting that is required of a PM. D for disappointment. But at least we know he is not the messiah.

  5. JennyWren

    Petit mal more like it

  6. Dog's Breakfast

    Ha, very good, yes it is a right royal eff up.

    I really think the idea of calling the election straight after the budget, for a July 2, 9 or 16 date, is fanciful.

    Do you think anyone can predict how the public will react to an election campaign that runs close to 2 months.

    2 months!! By that time people might very well be ready to tear his head off, or their own. I couldn’t bear the thought of 2 months of electioneering advertising.

  7. Venise Alstergren

    Poor little Malcolm Turnbull having to deal with the lunatic fundamentalists??!! Shock horror. Every member of the Libs contemplating a run at the Prime Ministership would know exactly how to handle the assorted Cory Bernardis, Andrew Nikolics, Mathias Cormanns, Tony Abbotts and Malcolm Turnbulls of the Party. So Malcolm, handle it.

  8. CML

    “No he’s not the messiah…he’s just a very naughty boy”!!
    (With apologies to the Monty Python crew)!
    Talcum should be able to play the lead role in the remake of ‘The Life of Brian’…lets face it, he couldn’t give a worse performance than he has done as PM!!
    This whole government would be a comedy routine…if it wasn’t so serious!!!

  9. MJM

    @CML – I don’t think he is a naughty boy. He appears to be busy but is actually idle and he talks too much. But naughty? – nah! Gutless – yes.

  10. AR

    Hoist on his agile & innovative petard – he’s the dog that caught the car and now regrets it.
    Never mind the ABCC trigger – what will be exercising his ego (his substitute for mind/conscience)far more is the changes to Senate voting.
    I wish that more of the supine meeja would get onto this – it is by far the most serious attempt to concrete in LNP/ALP dominance to the exclusion of all others.
    The government rejected committee recommendation of allowing a minimum of 12 votes below the Line which would have been the simplest, fairest and most democratic change and that alone should be warning enough.

  11. David Hand

    You’re all dreaming, especially you Ben. The issues are much simpler. If the changes to Senate voting fail, there won’t be a DD. If they pass, there will be a DD. The Coalition platform for a DD will be the obstructive Senate, which daily proves itself to be nothing short of feral. The coalition won’t hold a DD where Lambie only needs a 7% quota and can do preference deals.

  12. Peter Darco

    ” If the changes to Senate voting fail, there won’t be a DD.”

    That seems obvious to me.

  13. David Irving (no relation)

    I’m not sure there’ll be a DD even if the legislation gets passed. There isn’t enough time to get everything done in time, basically. And, David Hand, I thank the gods for this feral Senate – it’s protected us from the worst of the Mad Monk’s obsessions, and will continue to protect us from Petit Mal’s craven obeisance to the radical right of the Liberal party.

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