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View from the Street: Turnbull must and also mustn't call a double dissolution

And Australian Parliament loses another angry old white man. Your news of the day, reduced to a snarky rant.

A load of Bullock

WA Labor senator Joe Bullock has resigned from Parliament in a big huff over his party's ongoing support for same-sex marriage.

"How can I in good conscience recommend to the people that they vote for a party which is determined to deny its parliamentarians a conscience vote on the homosexual marriage question?" he rhetorically asked in his resignation speech. "The simple answer is that I can't."

What's sort of honourable is that he's given up his senate seat instead of daring the party to challenge him to recover it, as per former Palmer United senators Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus and ex-DLP senator John Madigan.

Less honourable is pretty much everything else the man has said in public, from railing against the Safe Schools anti-bullying program last week to slamming former WA Labor senator Louise Pratt as "a lesbian... after her [then] partner's sex change I can't be quite sure" in a 2013 interview in which he also praised Tony Abbott and called ALP members "mad".

Rampant bigotry aside, did he tick the wrong box for party preselection?

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Pratt was assumed to take Bullock's place, but leader Bill Shorten instead endorsed Pat Dodson, the man hailed as the "father of reconciliation", thereby neatly doubling the amount of Labor's indigenous representatives in Federal Parliament (the other being NT Senator Nova Peris) - and Pratt, for her part, is predicted to run for one of the party's increasingly-available lower house seats.

And this means that Bullock will now have more time to yell at clouds without being hidebound by Labor party convention, the slow but inexorable march of progress, recognition of civil rights and straight-up reality. Salut!

Ballot follies!

The Turnbull government got a welcome win today. And they could really have done with it to offset the increasingly-unhelpful criticism from the previous prime minister, the embarrassing leak of documents suggesting that Malcolm Turnbull did a lousy job of the NBN when he was communications minister, and the new Essential poll finding the government and Labor level at 50-50, suggesting the identical Newspoll the other week wasn't a fluke.

So they'd be chuffed that the Greens have agreed to a deal with the government to support the much-discussed Senate ballot changes, which will either guarantee the Coalition a majority in both houses (according to panicked minor party preference swappers), a flood of informal votes (according to Labor), sweet, sweet voter-determined democracy (according to the Greens and SA's NXT senator Nick Xenophon), destroy democracy and enshrine control in the major parties (according to the other seven crossbench senators) or probably not that make that big a difference, really (according to the ABC's psephologist and election sage Antony Green).

So… um, that's clear?

Of course, there are a couple of tiny changes between the legislation the government presented and the one that the Greens will accept.

How's your July looking, nation?

One is that the Greens have reportedly only agreed provided that there is easier optional preferencing below the line as well as above, since changing one but not the other undermines the argument that this is all about putting control in the hands of voters.

A bigger headache for the government is the stipulation that the government can't call an election using this ballot until the Australian Electoral Commission has a chance to get the necessary new systems in place.

That means that the earliest chance for the government to go to the polls would be July 1. And a double dissolution can't be held any later than July 16 since a DD can't be called in the last six months of a government's term.

So the question that the government is currently weighing up is this: would they prefer the disadvantages of an early election, or the disadvantages of a normal one?

Why calling a double dissolution is a bad idea for the government

For a start, the polls have indicated that Turnbull will risk a small but solid swing against him if he takes Australia to the polls before the government's term is up, on the not-unreasonable ground that he'd be gaming the system to his own advantage.

There are also a bunch of procedural issues with a double dissolution, which Green explains in one of his typically detailed blog posts. One big one is that it would require another half-senate election to be held in the first half of 2018 before the next actual election in 2019.

It also means a longer-than-usual election campaign: a DD can't be called any later than May 11, so that means almost two months of expensive and exhausting campaigning, while giving the Senate crossbench valuable extra time to make a case for their return.

Another problem is that a double dissolution means senators only need to get half as many votes as in a normal election, and media in the states with fewer lower house MPs - Tasmania, SA and WA - historically give a good amount of attention to candidates in the upper house, purely since there's less competition for airtime.

That means Lambie, Family First's Bob Day and Palmer United's Zhenya "Dio" Wang have a stronger-than-usual chance of surviving - only this time with an active grudge against the government that tried to destroy them.

Why not calling a double dissolution is a bad idea for the government

First up, the earliest a normal election can be held is August 6, although for a bunch of holiday and sports events-related reasons it'd probably end up being in September or October - which Turnbull has repeatedly said is the most likely scenario.

That means another couple of months in which the government has to weather a bunch of ugly possibilities, ranging from the likely slowdown of the economy to the growing internal disharmony threatening to tear the party asunder while Tony Abbott sits atop his throne of skulls, giggling maniacally as lightning crashes dramatically behind him.

It also guarantees ongoing crossbench issues. Senators have six year terms, which means those elected in 2013 - Lambie, Wang, Day, Lazarus, David Leyonhjelm and Ricky Muir - don't have to fight for re-election until 2019.

Only two of the current non-major-party affiliated senators are up for election: one is Nick Xenophon, who will definitely win in his own right (and almost certainly win a second Senate seat for NXT), who often votes against the government. The other is the likely-doomed Madigan, who has been one of the government's most ardent supporters.

So, in short: Turnbull would be smart to avoid both a double dissolution and a normal election, and he should definitely do it as soon as possible while also putting it off for as long as he can.

The cocktail hour: cuteness overload

After all that, refresh with a strong drink and a baby echidna. That's fix everything.

See you back here tomorrow, friends, and cheers!

The top stories at smh.com.au on Wednesday were:

1. Super Tuesday live results: The biggest day in the US election race
2. Man arrested after allegedly spitting on four-month-old baby in Surry Hills
3. Qantas to allow upgrades on frequent flyer award bookings using points
4. 'I was naked all over the internet': the ordeal of sportscaster Erin Andrews
5. 60 Minutes film crew attacked by a 'group of masked men' in Stockholm

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