AUSTRALIA

Malcolm Turnbull's Grand Election Plan Has Come To Fruition

08/05/2016 2:22 PM AEST | Updated 08/05/2016 4:27 PM AEST
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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stands outside Australia's Parliament House in Canberra May 4, 2016 following the announcement Australia's 2016-17 Federal Budget. AAP/Sam Mooy/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. AUSTRALIA OUT. NEW ZEALAND OUT.

As his sleek white Commonwealth car swept up the driveway to the Governor-General's manor at Yarralumla on Sunday, Malcolm Turnbull's grand plan for an early election finally came to fruition.

In one bold and unexpected move back on March 21 -- wow, has it really only been six weeks since then? -- the Prime Minister announced a rare proroguing of the parliament, an extraordinary early recall of parliament to consider his union-busting Building Commission bills, an early Budget and a double dissolution election.

In one press conference, Turnbull overturned the table and sent the pieces flying, laying bare his gambit to banish the troublesome Senate crossbench that had been plaguing the Liberal government for three years, to fight an election on economic and workplace matters, and take back the initiative that some had felt was lacking in his early days as PM -- all in one fell swoop.

As he visited Sir Peter Cosgrove on Sunday afternoon to ask the Governor-General to dissolve the parliament and issue writs for a July 2 election, he locked himself into a plan he no doubt had cause to reconsider over recent weeks. When Turnbull called the poll, he was far ahead of Labor and its leader Bill Shorten on every measure -- now, the most recent polls show Labor either neck-and-neck or leading the Coalition, Shorten's approval ratings have ticked up while Turnbull's are down, while the government has called the election amid ferocious criticism of Tuesday's federal budget.

Turnbull locked himself into the July 2 poll way back in March, with his ultimatum that a double dissolution election would be happening if his Australian Building and Construction Commission bills were not passed. The bills lasted less than a day in the Senate before being voted down. Looking at the recent political climate, Turnbull may have wished this week that he did not lay all his cards on the table in such a dramatic fashion, as Labor hardly seemed fazed by his grand scheme.

Indeed, looking around the House of Representatives on Thursday, the last day of the parliament before the election, you could be forgiven for thinking the two sides had swapped chairs. The opposition, with much work still to do, were lively and laughing, clearly enjoying themselves as they joked and hooted and hollered and howled down the government's talk about the budget. The Liberal side, however, looked as though they couldn't wait to hop the first plane out of Canberra, with glum expressions and bored faces all around.

"They are back there, sitting there like house bricks without the animation or the enthusiasm," Labor MP Tony Burke yelled gleefully during Question Time.

"The reason they are feeling that way over there is that they know full well that ultimately the Prime Minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs."

At this stage, even after the Budget that could (and probably should) have been the launchpad for their election campaign, the government is facing criticism of playing it safe, of trying to be too clever by half, and ferocious questioning of such key Budget measures as its controversial PaTH internship program for young job seekers and the cost of the company tax cuts which Turnbull and treasurer Scott Morrison both near-farcically declined to detail in numerous media interviews and questions this week.

The Labor team, on the other hand, seem to be jumping out of their skins to begin their campaign.

Turnbull has fired the starter's gun for this election, but the long lead-up and the false start may yet turn out to be a backfire for the PM and his team.

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