The federal government is cautiously eyeing a windfall gain from soaring iron ore prices in recent days, fuelling hopes of billions of extra dollars flooding into Canberra, but the financial improvement is not being matched by a rise in political certainty.
The optimism comes as Malcolm Turnbull continued to leave room for an earlier budget to facilitate complex double-dissolution election timing, declaring only that the government is "working towards" a May 10 budget as scheduled.
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Rising iron ore prices to help budget
Scott Morrison's first federal budget could be billions of dollars better off thanks to rising commodity prices. Analysis with Fairfax's Mark Kenny.
His wording appeared to stop deliberately short of an iron-clad commitment to the May 10 date - amid speculation that an alternative plan of May 3 is under active consideration.
Confusion over the actual date has reached comical proportions, sparking a social media flurry on Wednesday as media companies and other budget attendees moved to book scarce accommodation and favoured Canberra restaurants for both dates.
One Canberra insider, who had telephoned a prominent eatery, said his outlet had already been beaten to the punch for the alternative May 3 dinner booking by Fairfax Media's national bureau - publisher of this newspaper.
"It's catering chaos", claimed the journalist on Twitter, describing the earlier of the two dates as "phantom budget night".
Not only is the prospect of an early election knocking some off-balance, but the architecture of the tax-reform package, and even the timing of the budget, have now become the subject of intense public discussion.
With both major party leaders touring the country to make factory visits and other campaign-style appearances, 2016 appears to be already succumbing to an extended election campaign atmosphere.
Former Victorian Liberal premier Jeff Kennett attacked Mr Turnbull on radio for lacking direction, slamming what he characterised as a rush to the polls by Mr Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison "simply to cover up their own failings".
Mr Turnbull hosed down galloping double-dissolution talk, again predicting that the election will be held in the second half of the year. But even some supporters admit that is not what it seems, given the likelihood that the double-dissolution election will be set for July 2 - the first Saturday in the second half of 2016.
The May 3 budget option would allow sufficient time for supply legislation to pass and for the government's once-defeated union watchdog bill to be defeated a second time, making it an additional double-dissolution trigger.
The high iron ore price would not only undo much of the downgrade of the budget announced in December's mid-year budget update, but would go along way towards pre-election spending commitments, with potentially $6 billion to $9 billion flowing from higher company profits and corresponding taxes paid.
Visiting the South Australian Olympic Dam, Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg welcomed the recent spike in iron ore prices to above $US60 ($80.5) a tonne and said between that improvement and the innovation undertaken by miners like BHP, the future of the industry is suddenly much brighter.
"The Olympic Dam operations are an example of the resilience of Australia's resources sector, where the challenges of lower commodity prices have been combated through increased productivity and the use of innovation. Coupled with the long-term positive outlook for global commodity markets, the future continues to look bright for Australia's world-class industry," he told Fairfax Media.
With Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull struggling for funds to support revenue-neutral income tax cuts, rebounding iron-ore prices globally, along with recoveries in both copper and gold prices, could be a major boon to revenue, with each dollar rise in the price, injecting some $250 million into Canberra's deficit-depleted coffers.
The 2015 budget was predicated on an iron-ore price of $US48 a tonne but even that pessimistic figure turned out to be high, necessitating a downward-revision to $US39 in December.
But in weekend trading, the price shot to $US63.74 before slipping fractionally in Tuesday trading to be at $US63.63.
Analysts have warned the government against assuming the rebounded iron ore price is permanent, predicting it will fall again sharply, although not to December lows.
One theory about the spike is that a major Chinese steel maker has been buying ore furiously in order to cope with a coming shut-down ordered to allow cleaner air for a large flower show.