Federal Politics

Malcolm Turnbull ready to fight early double dissolution election on union corruption

The Turnbull government has already obtained the constitutional "trigger" needed to justify an early election fought on union corruption and on the Labor Party's reluctance to stamp it out, a senior cabinet minister has declared.

Turnbull's double-D dilemma

The May budget could be brought forward to facilitate complex election timing. Fairfax's Mark Kenny explains.

The fighting declaration means the government is already positioning for a strong anti-union election and is now merely trying to bolster that argument with another key plank of legislation - a resubmitted bill to re-establish the Howard-era Australian Building and Construction Commission.

The declaration by Employment Minister Michaelia Cash coincided with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull refusing to nominate the date of the budget, prompting speculation it might be brought forward to ease pre-election logistics.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The government expects the ABCC legislation to be rejected or delayed again, either way making it a second specific trigger for a double dissolution. Some argue it is already a trigger given the Senate's recent diversion of it to a committee.

"The ABCC legislation remains a priority for this government and will be listed at the next available opportunity," she told the National Press Club, while admitting it would not formally listed next week after a deal with the Greens on Senate voting reforms.

But she said the dissolution of both houses could be justified already in any event.

"In relation to the double-dissolution trigger, do I believe that the Registered Organisations legislation is important enough in terms of an election campaign? Yes, I do," she said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull kept the plebiscite policy adopted by Tony Abbott.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull kept the plebiscite policy adopted by Tony Abbott. Photo: Andrew Meares

Coming from such a senior cabinet figure, Senator Cash's statements have increased the expectation of an early election, and came as members of the government and the opposition admitted privately that a July 2 double dissolution had firmed as the date for the 2016 poll.

A frontbench figure said the "momentum" was "all one way" and while the Prime Minister could simply decide not to take the early option, that would risk cementing the trend in the polls which reflected growing voter concerns that the government does a lot of talking "and not much else".

Mr Turnbull is said to be undecided but has looked at the unorthodox option of bringing the budget forward by a week to allow for the delivery of the economic blueprint, before vital supply bills, and perhaps another anti-corruption bill can be re-submitted, prior to the election being called.

The latest Newspoll, released on Tuesday, showed voters cooling on the government, which remains neck-and-neck with Labor on 50-50 after preferences.

The budget will be delivered in May

Mr Turnbull has pointedly not ruled out an early poll but has consistently maintained that he expects it to be held around the conclusion of the normal three year parliamentary term, meaning at some time from August through to November.

While some Liberals argue the declining popularity of the government would make an early election riskier, others believe the government is drifting in the long lead-up to its big set-piece events: its tax reform package, Mr Turnbull's first budget, and a subsequent election.

Advocates of the double-dissolution option say the election itself will become the circuit-breaker because it will fill the current policy vacuum and focus voters' minds on the two prime ministerial alternatives, Mr Turnbull or Labor's Bill Shorten.

When asked in Adelaide about new speculation over shifting the budget to May 3 from its scheduled May 10 date to provide extra time for legislation, he said only "the budget will be delivered in May".

The words, which appeared to have been carefully chosen for what they did not say, mirrored those of the Treasurer Scott Morrison who had said the same thing last week. Neither mentioned the actual date.

Another complication is the prospect of a sudden state election in Queensland - a Liberal National Party stronghold. A party source admitted the potential collapse of the state Labor government's working majority could see an election forced, and that this would strain the finances of the LNP if a federal poll occurred in close proximity.

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