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Byelection for Geoff Shaw's Frankston seat unlikely

Analysis

Don't hold your breath waiting for a byelection in the seat of Frankston if Geoff Shaw is booted from Parliament. Victoria's Electoral Act is clear.

Even if the Parliament were to vote at the first opportunity when it next sits on June 10, the Speaker would have a month to issue the writ for a byelection. The act then allows up to 28 days for candidates to nominate - as late as August 7. A byelection would be held on a Saturday 15 to 30 days after that, as late as Saturday September 6, less than three months before the November 29 general election.

This is an optimistic scenario. For obvious reasons, the Coalition is in no hurry. Chances are, the privileges committee's recommendations to Parliament won't be debated for some time, which would push the likely timetable out even more.

A strong possibility is that the Speaker would use common-law powers to cancel any byelection due weeks before a general election. This happened after Labor MP Craig Langdon resigned three months before the November 2010 Victorian election. The byelection for his seat of Ivanhoe was due weeks before polling day, but was cancelled by former Speaker Jenny Lindell because of cost and inconvenience.

If Shaw were expelled, the best Labor could hope for would be a constitutional crisis followed by a short period of minority government before a general election. It is hard to see how this could be in the party's strategic interests.

Labor might gain a modest advantage from fleeting incumbency. On the other hand, many voters might see the government as illegitimate, having seized control through a costly byelection weeks before the end of a four-year term.

There are also questions about whether misuse of Shaw's parliamentary car should be punished with expulsion or a lesser sanction such as suspension or a bigger fine than the $6838 recommended by the privileges committee.

As Monash University's Ken Coghill points out, if Shaw lost his seat, it would be a precedent and this may not be a desirable outcome.

More likely, Labor will do its best to make the wound fester. Shaw may well be found guilty of contempt, but chances are the sanction is likely to fall just short of expulsion, ensuring the Shaw headache continues for the Napthine government until November 29.

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