Any moment now, the Prime Minister will announce that Australia will be going to the polls early this year and though it might not seem like it, this is a very big deal. This article will explain everything you need to know about the importance of an early election in 2016.
The Senate yesterday voted down Turnbull’s attempt to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). It comes after last month when the PM and Attorney-General George Brandis officially advised Governor General Peter Cosgrove to restore the Parliament early to debate the Coalition’s two pivotal industrial relations bills if they were not passed. This established a double dissolution trigger.
With the trigger now ready, we wait for the PM to pull it, and given that he began advertising in his NSW seat of Wentworth last month (as well as other locations, such as Melbourne Ports), it is safe to say the announcement is imminent.
WHAT IS A DOUBLE DISSOLUTION?
A double dissolution election is a mechanism used to break deadlocks in Parliament, when the government do not have a majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Basically, if an important piece of legislation is blocked by the Senate twice (with a two month gap) it becomes a trigger for a double dissolution because the House and the Senate are deadlocked.
In order to un-deadlock the Parliament, the House and the Senate are both dissolved and an election is called where all members of the parliament are up for re-election. House representatives have 3 year terms, however senators have 6, with only half running at each election. A double dissolution would throw out all parliamentarians at once. That is why it is a pretty big deal.
Historically, there have been six of these double dissolution elections in Australia. Of those, one was successful. In 1987, Labor PM Bob Hawke went to a double dissolution election against Howard’s Liberal Party to force through a piece of legislation regarding national identification cards, won the election, but abandoned the legislation. Needless to say, it is a big risk to make this call.
MEET THE BILLS
There are 2 bills being blocked by the Senate; signature pieces of Coalition legislation relating to the ABCC. The Commission is a watchdog. It is an independent authority that promotes workplace relations. In particular the commission monitors unions for unlawfulness, of which all the Royal Commissions since 2001 have expressed concerns.
Second, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 is all about ‘accountability and transparency’. The Coalition wants union bosses to adhere to the same disclosure and transparency obligations as business heads.
Labor, on the other hand, were responsible for axing the Commission under Kevin Rudd in 2012 over fears that the watchdog had too much influence. They argue that the bills are an attempt by the Liberal-National Coalition to constrain the power of key unions. This is the core of the blockage.
Currently, the Coalition has a majority in the House of Representatives, but not in the Senate. They therefore require 6 of the 8 crossbenchers to join them in supporting the bill or it cannot pass due to the opposition fronted by the Labor Party. And with the ABCC bill now defeated once, it looks like a double dissolution is the only way for the government to try and get the bill passed.
The 2013 Federal Election will be remembered as a victory for the micro-parties. Micro-parties are exactly what they sound like: little parties, often focussing on a single issue. Ricky Muir of the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party famously won a seat for Victoria in the Senate, with less than 0.5% of the vote. How did he do it? He made deals with as many parties as he could to secure their preferences.
If you voted in 2013, you will remember that on the one-metre-long Senate vote paper, you were able to choose to vote above the black line with an easy ①, or number your preferences 1 to 97. Voting above the line gives that party the power to decide your preferences for you. When you number 1-97 though, one mistake renders your vote ‘informal,’ or invalid.
Deciding that micro-parties were rorting the system, the Liberal Party with the support of the Greens and Nick Xenophon introduced legislation that would give preference power to the voter meaning you will now number 1 to 6 above the black line, or 1 to whatever below. The bill was passed on March 18th.
So, going back to double dissolution, if the entirety of both houses go up for election, a new election will see parliamentarians like David Leyonhjelm (LDP) and Ricky Muir (AMEP) struggle to regain their seats, as they can no longer score preference deals. Though they claim this is an attempt to stop their blocking of Liberal legislation, these senators will have to earn a sufficient amount of actual votes to reclaim their seats.
WHY THE PM WANTS A DOUBLE DISSOLUTION
The Prime Minister is laying it all on the line. The Liberal Government is trying to force the passing of the ABCC and registered organisation bills. But how does he expect to win?
One explanation is that he is still riding the ‘I’m not Tony Abbott’ surge of popularity. The latest polls suggest however that in the two-party preferred, Labor leads with 51%, to the Coalition’s 49% (Galaxy, 3/04/16). At the same time, 48% of those polled are dissatisfied with Turnbull’s performance, compared to 38% who are satisfied (Galaxy, 3/04/16), so that reasoning is questionable.
Another is that the elimination of many micro-parties will give the Coalition a better chance at earning their 6 necessary cross-benchers. Even in failure, it will still be somewhat of a victory for the Libs as less micro-parties may mean less opposition to future bills.
However, the dissolution of both houses relies, first, on the government winning, and second, that they make gains in the Senate. Earning a larger share in the House may also result in a weaker and more difficult Senate, which will fail the legislation that triggered the election.
Is not being Tony Abbott or Bill Shorten enough to get Turnbull over the line? Will the micro-parties keep their seats or will the Liberal party triumph? Only time will tell.
WHAT DO THE OTHER PARTIES THINK?
The Greens have begun campaigning in all seats, confident they can capitalise on voters disillusioned by the major parties. Volunteers are registered, flyers and signs are being distributed and party leader Richard Di Natale is touring the country, rallying voters.
Meanwhile, micro-parties are outraged. Senator Bob Day (Family First), with the support of David Leyonhjelm (Liberal Democrats), has launched a High Court appeal to the Senate reforms mentioned earlier, arguing they are unconstitutional.
GAME ON, they say. Labor is willing and ready to tackle the Coalition head-on. With industrial relations and same-sex marriage set to be a pivotal issue in this election, Labor is confident it will defeat the current government, or at least the bills in the event of a loss.
The election, slated for 2 July, will be one of the most important elections of our time. It is not yet known when exactly the Prime Minister will pull the trigger, but Turnbull has until the 12th of May to call a double dissolution election. It is going to be a long road to the polls this year. The most you can do is to decide what kind of government you want leading the country at this critical juncture in time, and educate yourself on which of these candidates is going to represent you.