May 19th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The real cost of institutionalised child care

EDITORIAL AGL dismisses $250m bid for Liddell Power Station

GENDER POLITICS As Queensland transgenders birth certificates, 300 women quit UK Labour Party

CANBERRA OBSERVED No pressure on Malcolm to call election this year

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Can Greens regenerate, or are they mulch?

POLITICS Conservative shift in the Victorian Liberal Party

OPINION No fairytale ending from the Land of a Fair Go

LAW REFORM The Nordic Model: proven to curtail sex trafficking

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Committal hearing dismisses main serious charges against Cardinal Pell

GENDER AND ETHICS Transgenderism and the dissolution of identity

PHILOSOPHY The supercharged cheetah

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS One Belt, One Road: China's new empire


MUSIC Business as usual: The sweet tinkle of falling coins

CINEMA Avengers: Last Flag Flying and Infinity War

BOOK REVIEW A hungry beast that ate up 4 million lives

BOOK REVIEW Skewed analysis of republic in crisis



CANBERRA OBSERVED Bill Shorten's Budget-Reply speech: for what ails you

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Behind the U.S.-North Korea rapprochement

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No pressure on Malcolm to call election this year

by NW Contributor

News Weekly, May 19, 2018

A decision on the date of the next election will be at the forefront of Malcolm Turnbull’s mind from budget night onwards, with speculation about an early election a constant reminder in his ear from the political commentariat.

Yet, whatever the voter response to Treasurer Scott Morrison’s third budget – positive or negative – only unexpected events would encourage the Prime Minister to opt for anything earlier than a conventional 2019 election, probably in either April or May.

Barnaby Joyce’s self-imposed Christmas deadline on the PM is seen as a new marker for Mr Turnbull to lift his personal key performance indicator – that is, his standing in Newspoll.

However, the reality is the “30-Newspolls-in-a-row event came and went without any substantive move against Mr Turnbull’s leadership. A combination of party-room passivity, an actual lack of numbers from the Abbott group, as well as a genuine reluctance to deal with the bloodletting a second challenge to a sitting Prime Minister would create, meant Mr Turnbull’s position was never in danger.

Mr Joyce may nonetheless be correct in stating that, closer to an election and the prospect of a likely loss, that mood might change, particularly as backbenchers in marginal seats face the prospect of unemployment.

Yet Mr Joyce is not a Liberal and therefore has zero say in who the Parliamentary Liberal leader is at any point; so the irony of the former Nationals leader putting a Christmas deadline on Mr Turnbull’s poll ratings was not lost on his Liberal colleagues.

Beyond all this Mr Turnbull does have one tactical luxury as prime minister – options on when to call an election.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Library has provided us with a ready reckoner for all the permutations for the date the next federal election, which explodes the myth that Australia has elections every three years.

Section 28 of the Constitution stipulates that every House of Representatives “shall continue for three years from the first meeting of the House, and no longer, but may be sooner dissolved by the Governor-General”.

According to the Parliamentary Library, this means that as the 45th Parliament first met on Tuesday August 30, 2016, it is, therefore, due to expire on Thursday August 29, 2019.

Consequently, the next election for the House of Representatives must be held by November 2, 2019, at the very latest.

There has been only one instance of an election being held after a parliament expired through effluxion of time, according to the library research. This occurred in 1910. In recent times, William McMahon came closest to a full-term parliament, dissolving the house in 1972 after two years, 11 months and eight days.

The 41st Parliament under Prime Minister John Howard also went close, with a term from November 16, 2004, to October 17, 2007 – two years, 11 months and one day.

Mr Turnbull might welcome the prospect of a November election in 2019, but this would also mean a campaign of up to 68 days and a pre-poll period of 25 days.

A late 2019 election would also mean having to have a half-Senate election later this year.

Peter van Onselen in The Australian recently canvassed this option, arguing that pushing out a House of Representatives election to late next year would allow the economy to improve further and the budget deficit also to improve.

He wrote that half-Senate elections are conventionally to be avoided at all costs and that there is a good reason there hasn’t been one since 1970 when John Gorton was prime minister.

“While the 1970 half-Senate election backfired on Gorton, there were two such elections shortly before, in 1964 and 1967, because the Senate and the house were out of shape following the early 1963 general election Robert Menzies called,” van Onselen wrote. “This was during an unprecedented era of political success for conservatives, which has not been repeated since.”

How the Australian public would take to having two elections in 12 months would be uncertain, and Labor would portray such an option as the Coalition running scared. Also, electors in New South Wales will have to go to the polls on March 23, 2019, and Victorians on November 24 this year.

In short Mr Turnbull has a variety of options up his sleeve, and having called the last election in July 2016 – the first double-dissolution election since 1987 – he is not averse to using all constitutional levers to his advantage.

Nevertheless, a Saturday in April or May 2019 will most likely loom as the inevitable decider for the Turnbull Government’s fate, giving the PM and his team some room to rebuild with the electorate.

The 2018 Federal Budget was delivered after News Weekly went to print, so there will be a full analysis of it in the next edition.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm