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Going early ?

May 2nd, 2015

According to the usually well-informed Laurie Oakes, the Abbott government is seriously considering the prospect of a double dissolution election, following the impending Budget. This makes no sense to me, not that this should mean it is unlikely to happen.

To recap, talk of a double dissolution emerged last year, in the wake of the Senate’s blocking of unpopular Budget measures. Facing bad polls, the government abandoned the double dissolution idea, then dumped most of the measures. The new budget is supposed to be pain-free and popular. But, if so, what is the need for a double dissolution to get it through

The obvious inference is that, once returned with a more compliant Senate, the government will return to its true agenda. How can this argument be refuted, given that the same agenda was explicitly repudiated before the 2013 election, only to emerge immediately thereafter?

Then there’s the question of a trigger/pretext. The only current trigger, I believe, is the bill to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This is hardly a popular cause on which to fight an election, but more so than university deregulation, mentioned by Oakes as a possible second trigger.

Insiders generally assume that the trigger is a mere formality, of no electoral significance. But these are the same insiders who assured us back in 2010 that the Prime Ministership is in the gift of the relevant Parliamentary Party and that voters should not presume to be upset by an unexpected change. Given that it is nearly 30 years since the last double dissolution, I imagine many voters will want to know what is going on, and may have the temerity to take the constitution seriously.

Insiders are also easily impressed by a well-timed early election. Experience suggests that voters are not so impressed, and are likely to punish a government that goes early for no good reason. The most recent example was Campbell Newman in Queensland. He might perhaps have lost anyway, but he certainly didn’t benefit from running a campaign during the school holidays, despite his much-touted cleverness in “catching Labor by surprise”. Similarly, Kevin Rudd went early, when he would have done better (IMO) to take some time pointing out the weakness of Abbott’s position. And back in 1984, Bob Hawke went early to take advantage of his massive popularity, but still ended up with an adverse swing.

That’s my take, but perhaps the insiders know better.

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  1. rog
    May 2nd, 2015 at 16:39 | #1

    Abbott has denied he has any intention of a DD and he is a man of his word.

  2. John Quiggin
    May 2nd, 2015 at 16:49 | #2

    That settles it, then.

  3. I am and will always be Not Trampis
    May 2nd, 2015 at 17:00 | #3

    A DD would mean small parties have a much better chance of getting into the Senate.

    on what basis does anyone he would win at the present time?

  4. Paul Foord
    May 2nd, 2015 at 17:13 | #4

    I don’t think a pain free Budget is possible, especially given the competence shown in economic management and political wrangling competing agendas.

  5. Ikonoclast
    May 2nd, 2015 at 17:30 | #5

    I find it revealing that LNP and ALP continue pursuing policies that are not popular with the bulk of the people. I mean unpopular policies like privatising public utilities, squeeezing pensioners, parents and students whilst at the same time maintaing a raft of policies like negative gearing and fossil fuel policies which only benefit the well-off, the billionaires and the dinosaur fossil corporate industries. It seems that pleasing the rich is even more important that staying in power. Looking after the majority of the people comes a distant third. I guess all this is because former politicians just go and get their sinecure-jobs with their new mates at the rich end of town.

  6. May 2nd, 2015 at 17:54 | #6

    @rog
    Rog, that comment is ironic, right?

  7. dedalus
    May 2nd, 2015 at 17:56 | #7

    @Ikonoclast
    Don’t fall into that lazy equivalence, LNP=ALP, or the “all politicians” nonsense. All politicians are not the same, nor are all parties.

  8. Nicholas Gruen
    May 2nd, 2015 at 18:13 | #8

    You didn’t mention Gillard going early which was also a mistake – I thought so with foresight and, though she had the bad luck of Rudd inspired leaks, I continue to think so. She had the chance to establish herself as the natural leader the Liberals (like Julie Bishop) were scared she’d emerge as. None of us were to know that, somehow awed by her new position, she’d lose her spark and walk zombie like from one presser to the next for the next few years. Naturally enough the faithful were waiting to canonise her as she emerged from the disaster.

  9. Megan
    May 2nd, 2015 at 18:36 | #9

    @I am and will always be Not Trampis

    True but…

    Senate voting “reform” is on the cards and the ALP & LNP will vote together to slam through changes which will spell the end of micro parties. As Ikon points out, the ALP/LNP duopoly care more about the duopoly’s monopoly (!?) on power than winning or losing any particular election – as long as, between them, they run the place.

    My bet is that the thing to keep an eye on, before worrying about a DD, is the introduction of legislation dealing with “electoral reform”.

  10. Sancho
    May 2nd, 2015 at 18:38 | #10

    @dedalus
    It’s true that LNP=/=ALP, but their positions have aligned alarmingly in recent history. They’re much closer in principle and policy than Labor is with the Greens.

    Must say I’m genuinely baffled by Shorten. I cannot figure out what that guy is trying to do. His invisibility isn’t a small-target strategy, because he’s roundly regarded as someone just hanging around in the background of of Australian politics, occasionally coming forward to agree with whatever the government is doing.

  11. jungney
    May 2nd, 2015 at 18:40 | #11

    Thanks JQ. Like many Aussies, I’d welcome a dd as soon as possible. If the result gave the Coalition control of both houses, which is a far fetched fantasy, then I’d change strategy and tactics.

    The Coalition is technically incompetent to execute what it needs to do in order to wear the mantle of populist leadership. It needs to link an electoral majority, one that consists of bogans, to the wagon of the most effete and privileged caste of seaside mansion dwellers that ever existed in this nation or some others. It either wont happen or, if it even happens by a passing glance, will be exactly the train wreck that rational need to dispense with the rule of idiots.

  12. Megan
    May 2nd, 2015 at 18:41 | #12

    @dedalus

    Apart from obvious things, like the leader of one party is called ‘Tony’ and the leader of the other is called ‘Bill’, their slightly different acronyms etc.. – in what substantial ways does the ALP not equal the LNP?

  13. Phil H
    May 2nd, 2015 at 18:46 | #13

    Megan, if the senate voting reforms pass into law, I for one one will be much happier. Allowing politicians to dictate voter prefences is deeply undemocratic, and should never have been allowed in the first place.

    That said, it would be wrong to assume minor parties would vanish after that change takes place. The senate has always included minor parties, they just tended to be less risible than some of the ones we have today.

  14. May 2nd, 2015 at 19:19 | #14

    @dedalus

    Agree 100%. The right are very happy anytime they hear that people don’t like/don’t trust pollies. And they would surely just about wet themselves to hear people say that all pollies/parties are the same.

  15. rog
    May 2nd, 2015 at 19:23 | #15

    @Nicholas Gruen Problem with Gllard going early was that it was an obvious capitulation to the opposition who were calling for an election – an election with the longest campaign ever.

    This time round the ALP are almost invisible, relying on outlier senators and the media for opposition.

    Libs have maintained a disciplined cohesive front whereas ALP have been chaotic and dysfunctional. Public opinion could well favour LNP when considering the alternatives.

  16. rog
    May 2nd, 2015 at 19:27 | #16

    @Jennifer Wilson Yes and no, Tony has demonstrated that telling porkies is ok if you are honest about it.

  17. Sancho
    May 2nd, 2015 at 19:34 | #17

    @rog
    I think a lot of voters initially viewed the lying as one of those tedious things a politician has to do to fight through the media and opposition and start implementing the policies they got elected for, but it quickly became apparent that the voters were mistaken about his real agenda, so he got this double whammy of being dishonest with his statements and his dog-whistling.

  18. Megan
    May 2nd, 2015 at 20:01 | #18

    @John Brookes

    1. In that case, I’ll ask you the same question I asked at #12:

    Apart from obvious things, like the leader of one party is called ‘Tony’ and the leader of the other is called ‘Bill’, their slightly different acronyms etc.. – in what substantial ways does the ALP not equal the LNP?

    2. If it is accepted that “the right” are delighted “to hear people say that all pollies/parties are the same” – then the active homogenisation of the ALP with/into the LNP must be a deliberately achieved goal of “the right”. So therefore, the ALP is now effectively a branch of “the right”.

  19. May 2nd, 2015 at 23:00 | #19

    Unuually, the UK is ahead of Australia in limiting the possibility of a tactical election. The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act of 2011 provides for early dissolution in only two circumstance: a vote of no confidence, or a resolution adopted by a two-thirds majority of the Commons. This gets the UK back to the idea that you hold an early election when the government can’t function, not when the polls suggest it can win one.

  20. Pete Moran
    May 3rd, 2015 at 01:51 | #20

    If you see action on the proposed reforms to Senate voting, an early DD election moves from impossible to implausible.

  21. May 3rd, 2015 at 04:18 | #21

    It would be very courageous of Tony to give the voters a DD. I would be sure that Laurie Oakes has the inside dope suggesting political delusion or a cunning plan. Equally, it would be very democratic if preferences were able to wholly directed by the voters, as in the recent NSW election of the Legislative Council. The cunning plan might be in part that voters might mistake the rules governing some State elections, such as optional preferencing, and the Federal election leading to a higher informal vote.

  22. paul walter
    May 3rd, 2015 at 06:57 | #22

    @Nicholas Gruen
    Gillard’s mistake was not waiting till after the election to challenge Rudd, a few years ago, but I think some in Labor were happy to see it damaged regardless of harm for the rest of us, to get back at Rudd and the Left. Gillard, as loyal deputy, could have legitimately moved to the leadership shortly, unless Rudd won a convincing victory and would have been the obvious choice as successor, if Rudd had lost or had been mauled.

    Personally, I wish Labor could have challenged harder on Data Retention and given Abbott a legitimate trigger. All that happened instead was that the Left faction were further thwarted and this led to Plibersek’s act of frustration over gay marriage, which only demonstrated an outlook and ideological split within Labor.

  23. paul walter
    May 3rd, 2015 at 07:02 | #23

    @rog

    Rog, do you ever get past the at times bovine, Orwellian stupidity of the Australian electorate?

    I personally think the most significant even this week, if the Australian is to be beleived, was Abbott condemning support for West Papua, hours after belly-aching about how wicked the Indonesians were for excuting Chan and Sukamaran.

  24. Paul Norton
    May 3rd, 2015 at 08:27 | #24

    To segue from the Gallipoli thread, there’s an argument about the causes of WWI that says that the Germans acted as they did in 1914 because people in the German leadership believed that war with the Franco-Russian (or Anglo-Franco-Russian) alliance was inevitable and that the later it occurred, the more likely it was that Germany would lose disastrously. Perhaps a similar line of thinking is at work with Abbott, Credlin, Loughnane, etc.

  25. Jane Power
    May 3rd, 2015 at 08:31 | #25

    Abbott is a pugilist, he would rather take the naughty backbench down with him than step down from being leader

  26. J-D
    May 3rd, 2015 at 08:34 | #26

    Is Laurie Oakes liable to any risk of any sort of penalty if he gets things wrong?

  27. Paul Norton
    May 3rd, 2015 at 08:40 | #27

    Pete Moran @20:

    If you see action on the proposed reforms to Senate voting, an early DD election moves from impossible to implausible.

    Yes. It is also true, of course, that historically attempts by Australian political parties to redesign the electoral architecture to achieve partisan ends frequently fail to achieve their ends and often produce unintended consequences. On current indications there is no reason to believe that a DD election – even if the proposed reforms are enacted – would produce a Senate in which the government (either Coalition or Labor) would not have to negotiate with a quite large crossbench. The most workable outcome would be one in which a Labor government had to work with a combined Labor and Greens majority in the Senate. This is also the best possible outcome for Labor as long as the Senate is elected by PR, no matter how upset some Labor people get when I point this out to them.

  28. Steve from brisbane
    May 3rd, 2015 at 10:58 | #28

    @Nicholas Gruen
    The “bad luck” of the Rudd inspired leaks? I think it would be fairer to call it “the political malevolence” of them, myself….

  29. Salient Green
    May 3rd, 2015 at 11:06 | #29

    Labor has a weak leader. The next choice is the popular Tanya Plibersek, still seen as weak due to past experience with a female leader. Albanese would be a strong leader but ATM he is down the popularity list. So you have a Labor leadership problem, a popular budget, support of the press, lots of money and nothing to lose that’s not lost already. If the polls improve after the budget they could well go for a DD.

  30. May 3rd, 2015 at 14:27 | #30

    @Megan

    Does the ALP have a plan to have universities set their own fees?

    Does the ALP have a policy to reduce foreign aid?

    Does the ALP believe in a price on carbon emissions?

    Does the ALP plan to pay subsidies for nannies for rich families?

    They are far from perfect, but they are no way identical to the Libs.

  31. Uncle Milton
    May 3rd, 2015 at 17:15 | #31

    Kevin Rudd went early? The 2013 election was held 3 years and one month after the 2010 election. How was this early?

  32. paul walter
    May 3rd, 2015 at 19:29 | #32

    @dedalus
    Dedalus, I’d still give it to Ikon.

    The equivalence argument was still valid till quite recently, but Data Retention was the final straw.

    Labor may indeed be still not as bad as the Tories, but I agree that, within a defacto one party system with spoils of defeat contested by two right-factions, Abbott’s coalition and Shorten’s managers of decline, the difference are becoming academic. Labor are whores as much as the demented Tories and the Oligarchy is the pimp feeding off both.

  33. zoot
    May 3rd, 2015 at 21:02 | #33

    Matt Taibbi wrote “Griftopia” and “The Great Derangement”, both of which I recommend.
    In these books his admittedly jaundiced view, which he supports with rather compelling evidence, is that both sides of US politics spend their turns in power repaying the donors who financed their campaigns. Government of the people, by the people, for the people is a distant memory.
    I fear we are following in the same path.

  34. john goss
    May 3rd, 2015 at 21:07 | #34

    My mother was always very supicious of politicians who called an early election. I don’t why it is such a popular political tactic. Have the numbers been done as to whether it does work? Until I see numbers that say otherwise, I’m going with my mom.

  35. I am and will always be Not Trampis
    May 4th, 2015 at 11:16 | #35

    Nick and Steve both ‘forget’ it was the leaks against Rudd which started all the leaks.

  36. J-D
    May 4th, 2015 at 12:16 | #36

    @john goss

    When you ask whether the tactic ‘works’, I’m not sure exactly what you mean by ‘work’. I could easily give you a list of instances where a government called an election before it was due and then won, but I’m not sure that’s what you mean.

  37. Ivor
    May 4th, 2015 at 12:31 | #37

    @John Brookes

    You will get different answers depending on whether you ask the Left or the Right.

    Maybe you should ask the Catholic Church as they control the Right?

  38. Ivor
    May 4th, 2015 at 12:33 | #38

    @Megan

    The differences you seek are in the factions.

  39. rog
    May 4th, 2015 at 21:29 | #39

    Paula Mathewson suggests it might be less about Shorten (get shorty) and more about rattling the LNP leadership cage. Rumours of an impending DD could ramp up aspirants resolve to contest leadership before an election is called.

  40. Megan
    May 4th, 2015 at 21:46 | #40

    Shorten today effectively said that torturing, and subjecting to abuse, refugee children and adults is “worth it” (in the Madeleine Albright sense).

    The ALP is a party of and for monsters. I cannot understand how people can support it. What do they think they will get for doing that?

  41. J-D
    May 5th, 2015 at 06:54 | #41

    @Megan

    Have you tried asking them?

    Or are you not acquainted with anybody who supports the ALP?

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