Rushing back to the polls fraught with danger for Abbott
Campbell Newman ... an early poll would be an inconvenience. Photo: Glenn Hunt
Ask the Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, whether he would like another election any time soon and the answer would have to be ''no''.
Newman swept to power in a record landslide in March and, with three-year terms in Queensland, does not need to go to the polls until March 2015.
Early in his first term, he has implemented unpopular measures such as harsh job cuts and is setting about reshaping Queensland as he sees fit.
Such is the size of his majority, Newman would not lose if he had to call an early election. Far from it. He'll win the next election in 2015 as well.
But an early poll would be an inconvenience and almost certainly Newman's Liberal National Party would lose some seats.
If the federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, wins the next election, as he remains favourite to do so, his majority would be nothing like that handed to Newman. All the more reason why Abbott would not want to rush back to polls before he had to.
But he has already promised to do so, should the Senate refuse to repeal the carbon price.
Starting at a community forum in Brisbane in July last year, Abbott has, on multiple occasions, promised a double dissolution election.
''There are provisions for dealing with a deadlock and we won't shy away from those provisions,'' he told the community forum.
A year later, he said, when asked about a double dissolution: ''Absolutely. Everything that we humanly can, we will do.''
In March this year, Abbott told Sky News: ''If an incoming Coalition government can't get its carbon tax repeal legislation through the Senate, well, we will not hesitate to go to a double dissolution.''
At the time of those statements, the Coalition was monstering Labor in the polls. Abbott was confident he would never have to carry out the threat in the event Labor and the Greens kept control of the Senate after the election.
He drew on the Coalition's eagerness to disown WorkChoices after the Howard government lost power in 2007. After the election, the Coalition opposition stood aside meekly and allowed the Rudd government to abolish the policy. Abbott believes Labor would do the same regarding the carbon price, saying repeatedly it would be inconceivable for the party ''to commit suicide twice'' over the policy.
It would be foolish to assume the carbon tax has lost all political potency. Abbott does not mention it day in and day out for no reason. His internal polling and anecdotal reports from backbenchers show it still resonates in certain electorates, both as a cost of living issue and one concerning the trustworthiness of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.
Equally, however, its potency is not what it was before July 1. The government believes Australian politics has moved into the ''post-carbon phase'', many of Abbott's claims about what the carbon price would do are, says the Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, ''complete bullshit'' and the public polls show the proportion of voters who feel they would be worse off under the tax has fallen. Significantly, the polls show Labor back within striking distance of the Coalition.
Abbott has declared the next election a referendum on the carbon tax and will keep banging the drum for another year, until the election is held.
But can he keep banging it afterwards, should he win, with the aim of dragging people back to the polls within 18 months?
It is likely business will be used to the tax and prepared for the carbon price to drop in 2015 when it is linked to the European price. Voters will also be sick of hearing about it. Pricing carbon may even be back in vogue.
Until hurricane Sandy ravaged the US east coast a week before last week's US election, climate change barely rated a mention in the campaign.
But, in his victory speech, the President, Barack Obama, said: ''We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.''
A former Democrat adviser now living and working in Canberra said Obama, like other second-term presidents, is now free from having to run for re-election and will seek to leave a legacy. This could include reigniting the push to put a price on carbon. More so as it would raise huge amounts of revenue and could be sold as a deficit-reducing measure.
A double-dissolution would be the last thing on Abbott's mind at the moment. His challenge remains to win the next general election and he is taking nothing for granted.
But if he won, Labor, should it retain the whip hand in the Senate, could do worse than to pause and take stock before throwing its policy principle to the wolves. Forcing a newly-elected government to hold another election holds little risk for an opposition.