Date: July 06 2012
For 18 months now, I have been predicting that the next federal election will be held on Saturday, October 26, 2013. I say that because I find myself often asked this question: ''Have you changed your mind about the election date?''
Actually, for a reason of unexpected events occurring, I have, to a limited extent, changed my mind. I now say that there are two chances in three that the election will be for the House of Representatives and half the Senate (on the above date) and one chance in three that there will be a general election for both houses on Saturday, April 20. That would be the consequence of a double dissolution occurring some time in March.
The technicalities are set out below. Before that let me consider the politics.
Julia Gillard is currently facing a diabolical problem on refugee policy. There are three possibilities as to how that problem will be solved. I rate each of them as one chance in three.
First, it might be resolved by Gillard just accepting defeat dressed up, of course, as a ''compromise''. She could say to Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison, in effect: ''You draft a migration bill and we could then get it passed through the Parliament.''
My heart tells me that there is no chance of that occurring. My head tells me that there is one chance in three of something like that actually taking place.
I express it in that way because I have a very negative view of Coalition policy in this matter. They claim to have principles but, as far as I am concerned, none of their claims has any substance. In my opinion their ''principles'' are threefold.
First, the more boats the more votes for us. Second, the boats must be stopped - but they must not be stopped by a Labor government. Third, our right to gloat at Labor's expense must be allowed to prevail over every other consideration.
Were it to work out in the way described above then the legislation would pass the Parliament in, say, October. Here is Abbott speaking to the bill.
''This is good legislation but it comes two years too late. That unforgivable delay is the consequence of Labor pride plus the folly of the members for Lyne and New England keeping in power a Labor government they knew to be incompetent. They will be duly punished by losing their seats in 2013.''
Of course the policy would fail and then the Abbott-Morrison line would be: ''That is what happens when good policy is administered by a bad and incompetent Labor government.''
Then there is one chance in three that Gillard triumphs. The Oakeshott bill is passed by the Senate and the boats are stopped because the arrangement with Malaysia comes into force.
My figuring is that the bill is passed in the Senate by 41 votes to 35. The 41 votes in favour would consist of 31 Labor senators, eight Greens, independent Nick Xenophon and Victorian John Madigan of the Democratic Labor Party. The 35 votes against the bill would consist of 28 Liberals, six Nationals and Sarah Hanson-Young of the Greens.
No one who saw Hanson-Young turn on the waterworks in the Senate debate on Thursday, June 28, could imagine her voting for the Oakeshott bill.
However, it is possible that the other eight Greens might be more pragmatic. They have every reason to try to avoid the humiliation of the Prime Minister. Quite apart from anything else a double dissolution would be a disaster for them.
At present the nine senators from the Greens consist of three with short terms (expiring on June 30, 2014) and six with long terms.
In the normal course of events the next half-Senate election would be for 40 places, 36 from the states and four from the territories.
The 36 long-term senators (expiring on June 30, 2017) include six Greens. That is the consequence of the Greens winning one Senate place in every state in 2010.
The Greens won 13 per cent of the Senate vote in 2010. For that they were rewarded with 17 per cent of the long-term places. They would not want to give that advantage up.
The double dissolution would come about in the following way. When the Senate rejected the Oakeshott bill on June 28 it created the first stage of a double dissolution ''trigger''.
Suppose the House of Representatives passes the Oakeshott bill again in December and the Senate rejects it in March next year. Then Gillard goes to the Governor-General, gets a double dissolution, and announces elections for April 20.
The present (43rd) Parliament first met on September 28, 2010. It therefore expires on September 27 next year. However, under section 57 of the constitution, a double dissolution cannot take place in the last six months of the term. So the option expires on March 27, 2013.
There have been six double dissolutions so far. They occurred on July 30, 1914, March 19, 1951, April 11, 1974, November 11, 1975, February 4, 1983 and June 5, 1987. Consequent general elections have occurred on September 5, 1914, April 28, 1951, May 18, 1974, December 13, 1975, March 5, 1982 and July 11, 1987.
The 22nd Parliament under Robert Menzies (1956-58), the 33rd Parliament under Bob Hawke (1983-84) and all of the 38th, 39th and 40th Parliaments under John Howard met the technical requirements of ''deadlock'' under section 57 but were never double dissolved.
Then, of course, the 42nd Parliament under Kevin Rudd created ''triggers'' on Wednesday, December 2, 2009 on 11 bills designed to implement his Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. If he had been possessed of courage he would have recommended a double dissolution on Monday, January 11, 2010 for general elections on Saturday, February 20. Unfortunately, however, he lacked the guts to do that.
Is Gillard any more courageous than Rudd?
Malcolm Mackerras is visiting fellow in the Public Policy Institute, Australian Catholic University, Canberra Campus.
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