NOTHING VENTURED…NOTHING GAINED?

At a Glance

So, here we are, half way through the federal election and we ask ourselves how did we get here?

Let’s go back to where it all began.

A newly minted Prime Minister Turnbull, riding high in the early polls, decided it would be a good idea to eliminate the disruptive crossbench Senators who were frustrating the Governments legislative agenda.

The path chosen was firstly to change the Senate voting rules to make it more difficult for Senate minor parties to get elected.

It took support of the Government and the Greens to change the Senate voting rules.

Then, in calling a double dissolution election, Malcolm Turnbull is attempting to ensure that the pesky crossbench Senators do not exacerbate his second term legislative program.

In order to call a double dissolution election, the Government required the Senate to reject key Government Bills (the Australian Building and Construction Commission Bills) for a second time.  The Senate did this in April.

With the double dissolution trigger in hand, and the new Senate voting rules in place Malcolm Turnbull advised the Governor-General to call a double dissolution election, and here we find ourselves, half way through the longest federal campaign since 1984.

What you Need to Know

This is the 7th double dissolution election since Federation in 1901.  The most recent being held in 1987.

Australia has only ever had one joint sitting following a double dissolution election and that was in 1974.  This was when the re-elected Whitlam Government used a joint sitting to legislate the introduction of Medibank, the forerunner to what is now known as Medicare.

The 1987 double dissolution election, called by the Hawke Government was done to gain support for their plan to introduce a national identity card called the Australia card.

The post-election joint sitting was abandoned by the Government when it realised it would struggle with Senate numbers to support key regulations required for the plan.

Post 2 July, once the Government is formed, and if the Parliament again fails to pass the contested ABCC Bills, then a joint sitting can be convened to pass those Bills into law.

The joint sitting itself does not allow for the Bills to be amended.  Following the debate, they are put to the vote and either the Bills get passed into law or they are rejected.

Also, it is only the Bills that gave rise to the double dissolution election that can be put before a joint sitting.  Any other Bills blocked by the Senate in the previous Parliament, (including the current billions in savings measures) will have to be reintroduced into the new Parliament by the Government.

What is a Joint Sitting?

 A Joint Sitting is the constitutional mechanism by which the deadlock between the House of Representatives and the Senate can be broken.  It has been rarely used and is not always a reliable solution.

As the name suggests, a joint sitting is when all the 150 newly elected members of the House of Representatives and the 76 newly elected Senators, sit as one chamber to deliberate on the Bills that gave rise to the calling of the double dissolution election.

In this case it is the following three bills:

  1. Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013
  2. Building and Construction Industry (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013
  3. Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014

The first two Bills known as the ABCC Bills, would have allowed the Government to re-establish what it called a ‘Cop on the Beat’ for Australian construction sites.

Is There Danger Lurking for Malcolm Turnbull?

In order to pass the rejected Bills into law, a re-elected Turnbull Government would require 114 votes in a joint sitting.  The question becomes, what happens if following the election, the Government doesn’t have a majority?

What does the Government do if they are short of the 114 votes required?

Currently the Government going into the election have a combined 122 votes, between their House members and Senate members.

With the possibility that they could lose up to 3 Senators, and pollsters talking of loses in the House of Representatives of between 10 and 12 members, the Government may well find themselves short of a majority in a joint sitting.

What does Prime Minister Turnbull do then?

If the Prime Minister is short of votes in a joint sitting he may well once again have to approach the new gaggle of Senate crossbenchers comprised of up to three Nick Xenophon Team Senators and other micro party Senators that could possibly include the likes of Jacqui Lambie, Pauline Hanson and Derryn Hinch, for support.

It would be a major irony, given one of the key reasons a double dissolution election is being held is to clean out the Senate crossbench, only to see a re-elected Prime Minister Turnbull having to negotiate with a more fractured Senate crossbench to get his signature Industrial Relations Bills agreed to in a joint sitting.

Alternatively, the Prime Minister could drop the entire idea of having a joint sitting if he and the Government face defeat.

To be clear, just because there is a double dissolution election, it doesn’t automatically follow there will be a joint sitting of the Parliament.

The Nightmare Scenario?

Post-election, the nightmare scenario that could play out for Malcolm Turnbull is that in his quest to…

  • Get rid of the micro party Senators
  • Change the Senate voting system
  • Call a double dissolution election
  • Re-establish a ‘Cop on the Beat’ for construction sites; and
  • Wedge Bill Shorten on a being a lackey of the unions

…all he achieves in being re-elected to Government is:

  • A smaller majority in the House of Representatives
  • Fewer Government Senators
  • More micro party Senators and an even more hostile Senate and;
  • Having to abandon a joint sitting because he can’t get a majority

In this scenario many in his own party and the broader community may well ask, “What was achieved?”

In such a scenario will Prime Ministerial authority get called into question?  Only time will tell.

Looking at this scenario it may well prove to be a riskier venture than Malcolm Turnbull bargained for.

Expectation versus Reality

The public’s expectations in regard to this issue is unlikely to be matched by the political realities a re-elected Turnbull Government will face post July 2.

The expectation is that having done a deal with the Governments mortal enemy (the Greens) in order to change the Senate voting rules –  is that the Government is committed to holding a joint sitting to pass the ABCC Bills.

The reality is Malcolm Turnbull may well struggle to deliver on this expectation.

Post-election, Turnbull will not want to be seen to be backing away from having a joint sitting without putting his credibility at further risk.  Potentially, he could be perceived to have cynically sought to use the rejection of the ABCC Bills in order to force a double dissolution election for his own political objectives rather than the national interest.

Conclusion

All of the Governments stated objectives for calling a double dissolution election and desire to hold a joint sitting of the new Parliament could end in political disappointment for a re-elected Turnbull Government.

Of six double dissolution elections held to date, only one resulted in a successful joint sitting, that being in 1974.

If history is any guide, it is not on the side of the Turnbull Government, and it faces the very real prospect of being re-elected into Government, with a smaller majority, an even more hostile and fractured Senate and the inability to gets its ABCC Bills passed in a joint sitting of the Parliament.

As a former investment banker, you would assume Malcolm Turnbull fully analysed the potential gains from this risky political venture. In politics, as in banking, there is always a fine balance between risk and return.  While Turnbull is likely to be rewarded with success at the polls, will the return be worth the political investment?

For more information in regards to this or any other public affairs issue you may require assistance with, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Jody Fassina|Director|Insight Strategy

M: (0405) 103 493

E: Jody.Fassina@insightstrategy.com.au

One thought on “NOTHING VENTURED…NOTHING GAINED?

  1. Pingback: All you need to know about the Double Dissolution but were too afraid to ask. – TMF

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