April 19, 2016

Horse 2101 - Schrödinger's Election - We Are On, Or Not On

Bang a gong, we are on. It's the bout to knock the other out. It's the great spill to decide the king of the hill. It's the Top Hats versus the Hard Hats. It's the constitution, it's Mabo, it's the vibe.
The Senate has officially rejected the ABCC bill and in a stunning turn of events, has handed the Turnbull Government an election trigger, which means that we are almost certainly heading for a double dissolution election. It's the only time that there is smoke before the gun has been fired. We have entered a period of Schrödinger's Parliament: it might already be dead but no one has opened the chamber to find out.

In the Blue corner, we have the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who probably should have called an election within a fortnight of winning the premiership to lock down his legitimacy but for reasons known only to the cats of Australia, he did not.
In the Red corner we have the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten who is known for his skilled knife work and whose most famous moment was standing around looking sad, at the top of a hole, during the Beaconsfield Mine collapse.
Neither of our two protagonists have led their parties to an election before and the last time that this happened was all the way back in 1900.

The two things which make this election uniquely unique (which is a tautological tautology) is that during the period of the election campaign there will be the Federal Budget handed down (which has the potential to itself trigger an election should Labor win the election and then decide not to pass it) and the minor detail that it will be a seven week campaign rather than five (assuming that it happens in the first place).

Probably the Liberal Party will attack Shorten over the failure to pass the ABCC legislation and accuse him personally of being a pawn of the union movement but given that this failed in the Victorian state election which brought Dan Andrews to the premiership of that state, it might not necessarily be all that effective. This argument is something of an unexploded ordinance in that Turnbull could accuse Shorten of being involved with the unions but Shorten's response would be that this is obvious. Shorten first came to national prominence as the union representative during the Beaconsfield mine collapse. This sort of attack might be akin to accusing Shorten of being a member of the Labor Party.
Malcolm Turnbull can project a more positive stance by suggesting that the Liberal Party is better at economic management, which is a narrative which still seems to resonate with the electorate, even though the then Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan led Australia admirably through the Global Financial Crisis. Swan has been remarkably absent in politics for a while and I think is still the best candidate for Treasurer. In contrast, Turnbull could run a frontal campaign directly on Labor's promise to hold a Banking Royal Commission by painting it as undermining confidence in the banking sector.

Now that the Senate has failed to pass the legislation and we wait for the election trigger to be pulled, then the only action that remains for this session of parliament is the handing down of the budget in May. This in itself has an interesting set of circumstances surrounding it, which I do not understand. I don't for instance know if the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten gets a right to a reply speech on the Wednesday immediately following. I also assume (because I honestly don't know) that it will be for the new parliament to vote on the Appropriation Bills which form the budgetary legislation. If Labor wins government on July 2, one can only think that they'd think about passing a new budget. Of course I also don't know what would happen if say Labor was in government and they faced a hostile Senate. If they couldn't pass their own budget, would the Appropriation Bills which formed the previous Turnbull Government's budget still be in play and does that mean that the clock is ticking? What I'm asking is, does the future result of the election mean that we're inadvertently sleepwalking towards another double dissolution in November, under the same set of circumstances that led to The Dismissal in 1975?

If Bill Shorten loses the election, then I think that it's safe to assume that the Labor Party will probably fire him as leader. It is usual for an Opposition once they have lost an election to go into disarray and run side to side like brainless sheep. Of course that would invoke a mostly untested process, which was instituted after Kevin Rudd left party leadership and that could mean that the Labor Party is technically without a leader on the floor of the chamber until the rank and file of the party finally get around to voting for Albo (you know it's going to happen).
If the Coalition loses the electron, then Malcolm Turnbull would more than likely stay on as leader but it is highly likely that there will be a leadership challenge on the horizon in late July. Barnaby
Joyce would almost certainly stay on as the leader of the National Party because let's face it, the Nationals are too small to have highly vocal factions.

As of this morning, we have a case of Schrödinger's Election. The election is both on and not on July 2 and there is a thing inside a chamber which has the potential to kill or has already killed off a parliament. The only way whether or not you can tell if there is an election on or not, is when the chamber is opened after a division. The cats of Australia have made their choice; we just don't know what it is yet.
One thing we do know is that whatever the outcome and whoever wins, they won't suffer the same fate as Dutch Prime Minister Johann de Witt. In 1672, an angry mob killed and ate him, after lynching him and ripping his body to pieces. We might have knifing of leaders in Australia and we might pull election triggers but we don't resort to out


GB said...

If the Appropriation Bills are not passed before the election is called (i.e. 12 May), money from remaining appropriations is likely to start running out in July and August. By September, much of government will cease to operate - pensions might cease and public servants asked to work without pay or for promises of pay (if that's legal). The only solution would be for Parliament to be called ASAP after the election to pass emergency appropriations.

It's hard to imagine Turnbull could consider taking that path by calling the election before the 2016-17 appropriations are passed into law.

Yes, Shorten will give the reply on 5 May. But no word yet on how much debate there will be on the budget.

Rollo said...

"the House of Representatives passes any proposed law, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it,"

As I understand it, Section 57 conditions would apply from November 4, because we can safely assume that the House as controlled by the Turnbull Government, would simply pass the Appropriation Bills with no questions asked.

The fact that we didn't see an actual shut down in services in 1975, leads me to believe that we wouldn't in 2016 either but again, I don't know.

GB said...

In 1975, the government was able to operate from July to November using the Supply Acts Nos 1 and 2 1975. The GG was worried that after November the money would run out. That was a factor in sacking Whitlam.

In 2016, without new appropriations, we could face appropriations running out just as a new government is elected. It might take some weeks for the writs to be returned. Appropriations are likely to get scarce during that time. So, Turnbull really needs new appropriation Bills passed before calling on the GG to prorogue Parliament. That puts him at the mercy of the non-government parties in the Senate who can without breach of any convention insist on a debate on the budget - which would go past 11 May and so frustrate Turnbull's desire for a DD.