Although we do not have a fixed date for the election next year, we know that it must happen on or after the 11th of May 2019.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that the 2019/20 Budget will be handed down on the 2nd of April; which means that the absolute shortest time frame allowing for the budget reply speech by the Opposition Leader on the 3rd of April is another 10 plus 23 days according to the ramifications of the Electoral Act 1918, which is the 36th of April; which happens to be a Monday and because an election must happen on a Saturday, then the 11th is the first available one.
I think that this is a remarkable piece of Machiavellian Political Engineering. This uses the machinery of legislation in a way which is so dastardly that I am impressed by its sheer audacity and bloody mindedness.
What Mr Morrison has done by announcing that his government will hand down a budget in the dying days of this parliament, is that he intends to leave unexploded ordnance laying strewn across the political battlefield; with the timers ticking.
If Labor were to win the election as expected, they would either issue a new budget or adopt the Apr 2 one as issued by the Coalition. If we assume they issue a new budget, then all that the coalition just has to block it and maybe not even expressly block it but simply fail to pass it. That task will be made all the more easier by the fact that the current government has only scheduled parliament to sit for 10 days in the first eight months of 2019.
If the House of Representatives passes any proposed law, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, and if after an interval of three months the House of Representatives, in the same or the next session, again passes the proposed law with or without any amendments which have been made, suggested, or agreed to by the Senate, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, the Governor-General may dissolve the Senate and the House of Representatives simultaneously.
- Section 57, Constitution of Australia 1900
Assuming that the budget passed the House, they the clock would start ticking from Apr 2. There'd be a minimum of five weeks already used up by the election campaign; so that leaves 21 weeks for Labor to come up with their own replacement budget and get it passed through both houses. If Labor's budget bill didn't pass the Senate, then by virtue of the House already passing the Coalition's Apr 2 one, then the Governor-General would have the Section 57 power to dissolve both houses simultaneously.
That in itself is dependent on the Coalition still having confidence and supply support from both Julia Banks who quit the Liberal Party yesterday (27th) and Dr Kerryn Phelps who stated that she would giver her continued support; though that seems increasingly unlikely.
There are more twists and turns to this story than an Olympic bobsled run and they're all just about as slippery. Christopher Pyne, who in addition to being the Minister of Defence is also the Leader of the House and therefore responsible for of government business in the House, rang MPs on Tuesday (27th) to tell them that the government would refer the new MP for Wentworth Dr Kerryn Phelps to the High Court over Section 44 eligibility issues if parliament decides to refer Peter Dutton to the High Court over his Section 44 eligibility issues.
The problem with this is that it is the parliament who gets to decide this and a minority government by definition is in the minority and so there is no guarantee that if Mr Dutton was referred to the to the High Court, that the government would have the numbers to do the same with Dr Phelps.
If Labor were to win the election as expected and simply accept the Apr 2 budget one as issued by the Coalition, then who knows what kind of landmines would be left in it. It might be theoretically possible for the Coalition, to block their own budget from Opposition, just through spite to trigger a Section 57 election.
Of course all of this completely disappears if current polling is incorrect and the Coalition somehow manages to retain government. If that's true, then that incentivises them to introduce a budget so audacious, that even they would be shocked by it. This also assumes that the Morrison Government actually survives until April 2018 because as previously stated Julia Banks and Dr Kerryn Phelps might not be willing to continue to support the government in confidence and supply. If a no confidence vote was passed on the floor of the House, then who knows what crazy land we'd end up in.
This looks like a government clinging to power in the same way that a tired old vulture clings to a branch to fall asleep, by digging its claws in. This is some serious claw digging.