Federal Politics

EXCLUSIVE

Early budget firms ahead of double dissolution

Federal government MPs are making contingency plans in case the May budget is brought forward by a week as the Prime Minister considers a July double-dissolution election over blocked anti-union corruption bills.

While officially at least, the government maintains it is working in the normal way towards a May 10 budget, Fairfax Media has been told a series of alternative logistical arrangements are being put in place for a late switch to May 3, among which is the reservation of Parliament House's Great Hall.

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Budget date speculation rife

One minister says she still expects the budget to be handed down on May 10th, but the Prime Minister and other ministers are being more cagey. Courtesy ABC News24.

An inquiry to Parliament House regarding the hall's availability that night confirmed it had been "reserved" although it did not reveal the identity of the person making that reservation.

The salubrious 600-seat venue is normally used by the governing party on budget night to conduct its largest, most lucrative fundraising activities with, what one insider described as $1000-a-plate meals ranging right up to several thousand dollars for tables hosted by ministers and perhaps twice that for those graced with treasurer and prime minister of the day.

Key business leaders and lobbyists flood the parliamentary precinct on budget day and the surrounding days, looking to exercise influence and spend quality time with senior government figures.

These people fly in from around the country, providing an annual boon to local hospitality businesses as well as airlines, taxi companies, and hire car firms.

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While technically the budget is a publicly owned function, political parties of both persuasions have typically used the opportunity for some top-tier fundraising.

And the Great Hall is just one of the venues utilised for the purpose - albeit the main one - with smaller spaces also reserved for special access briefings and power networking, all lubricated with fine wines and gourmet menus.

With Parliament House abuzz with speculation over the prospect of an early election, the contingency plans are further evidence that the government is either planning to move the budget forward or may even have decided to do so.

And an early budget in turn will be seen as a clear signal that the early trip to the polls is on also.

The last day a double-dissolution election can be called is May 11 - just one day after the budget as currently scheduled.

That is because there is no reason to shift the budget from May 10 unless it is being done to free up parliamentary time after its tabling in order to pass routine government supply bills needed to keep the public service running during what would be an extended election campaign.

The Coalition's junior partner, the Nationals, are also understood to be attempting to move key budget-related events mostly associated with fundraising ahead of the election, whenever it is.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has attempted to hose down speculation over the mooted budget shift but has strategically declined to rule out any change.

Scarce accommodation in the capital is also being booked up and restaurants used by media companies and others for post-budget dinners on May 3 even though the government maintains the budget timetable remains unchanged.

Ball-park costs for the use of the Great Hall suggest it would cost $4000 to $6000 to hire for the night, plus another $6000 to $7000 for extra security, and that is without the catering costs, which would be much higher again.

The Liberal Party's federal secretariat advised that it had not booked the venue for either night because such fundraising activities are the province of individual MPs rather than the party machine.

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