Analysis

Mathias Cormann

Mathias Cormann Photo: Glenn Hunt

The ever-feisty Finance Minister Mathias Cormann was out of the blocks early when the Court of Disputed Returns ruled on Tuesday that the West Australian Senate count was unreliable.

''If another WA election, another opportunity for WA to send a clear message that we want carbon tax gone & anti-WA mining tax gone,'' he cheerily tweeted within minutes.

As a Sandgroper, a senator and a senior cabinet member, he speaks with a triple authority on the subject - or perhaps quadruple authority if you count his purse-management responsibilities given the likely cost of running a state-wide byelection attracting a Melbourne Cup field.

Of course, bravado is de rigueur in politics, so this was to be expected. So what is the government's private assessment? You can bet it is less sanguine.

For a start, all the risk is on the down-side for the Liberal Party because it picked up a full three six-year terms in September.

With those wins declared void, the very best it can do in a rerun is repeat its stellar performance.

And in a byelection, even one as novel as this, governments can usually expect a bit of a kicking. Coming away with just two of the six spots is a real possibility, even in the brash and bullish west.

The Greens party, which thought it had won back a seat on the recount, is also a potential loser, but its experienced Senator Scott Ludlum always knew his narrow win was unsound given the misplaced ballot papers.

With all six spots on offer, a likely outcome is three Liberals, two Labor and Ludlum.

But the Liberal Party could easily be pared back to two, with two Labor, one Greens, and one Palmer United Party.

Tony Abbott will want it out of the way quickly in time for the scheduled first sittings of the new Senate on July 7.

That means a re-election must be completed by mid-May at the latest, and given a minimum statutory period of 33 days between issuing writs and the poll itself, must therefore be set in train rather soon.

The rerun will inevitably be a referendum on the Abbott government approaching its first year in office - and immediately following a difficult, and necessarily unpopular budget.

No sane government would lightly invite that test upon itself.

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