Wednesday, June 10

Rudd's countdown to November – if he decides to go that way

After a lot of shilly-shallying, Federal politics is entering a new period of tension – double dissolution or not? This video clip reports on the possibilities.

It's probably true that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd would prefer to serve out his full first term to the end of next year, as he's said a number of times.

But it's also true that he has put his newly envigorated ministry and the Labor machine on notice to be ready from about November in case he calls an early election, as Phillip Coorey reports in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

Despite his conservative preference for a full term, a double dissolution must be enormously tempting to Rudd for a reason seldom analysed by commentators – he would sweep away many of those troublesome senators.

At a normal three-yearly Federal election, all members of the lower house must step down. If they want to stay on, they must be re-elected. But senators are elected for six-year terms, and only half must seek re-election at each Federal election.

That why the Senate still contains so many Coalition members – two short of a majority – despite Rudd's convincing win over John Howard at the last elections.

However, after a double dissolution all members of both the Reps and the Senate must face the electors in fresh polls.

Of course, the numbers in a new Senate following a double dissolution cannot be certain, but it would be surprising if the Coalition did not fall sharply. In the current national mood, the Greens could lift numbers.

And Rudd would probably still face a number of loopy independents, such as Family First's Steve Fielding.

As Paul Kelly reported in The Australian last month, a double dissolution must be attractive to Rudd for many other reasons.

. . . his gains from a double dissolution are potentially immense and this is the key to future politics. A double dissolution gets Rudd to the polls before the worst of the downturn, possibly before the jobless rate reaches 8 per cent, maximises his House of Representatives vote, destroys the Coalition's gross over-representation in the Senate and constitutes the new upper house at once rather than on July1, 2011.

Taken together, such advantages pose a mortal threat to the Coalition parties. The paradox, of course, is that only the Coalition creates the conditions for a double dissolution. The test, therefore, for Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull is to persuade his party to avoid a double dissolution election and ensure a full term parliament.

Section 57 of the Australian Constitution says the Prime Minister may ask the Governor-General to dissolve both houses of parliament, the Representatives and the Senate, if:

  • The Senate rejects or fails to pass, or passes with amendments which the Reps will not accept, any legislation sent to it by the Reps – which means the Australian Government, with its majority in the Reps.
  • At least three months pass, and the Reps again passes the legislation and sends it to the Senate, which again rejects it.

That's when Rudd may make an appointment to see the Governor-General. From the time the G-G dissolves both houses, the Australian Electoral Commission timetable allows between 33 and 68 days till the nation goes to the polls.

See why Rudd wants the troops ready before November?


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