The Australian Building and Construction Commission bills have been defeated, just as we all knew they would be. If Malcolm Turnbull is a man of his word, a July 2 election is certain. The Prime Minister has his “election trigger,” and has the freedom to pull it whenever he likes.
So, now what? It certainly makes the next few weeks very tricky.
Malcolm Turnbull has said for more than a month that, should the ABCC bills be rejected once more by the Senate, that he would ask the Governor-General to dissolve both houses of parliament for a double dissolution election on July 2. Turnbull had given the Senate three weeks to consider the bills; in reality, it took less than a day for the Senate to reject his ABCC bills yet again. Turnbull has until May 11 to call a double dissolution, otherwise he runs out of time for the political manoeuvre and has to wait until September for a regularly-timed election.
So, the ball is now back in Turnbull’s court far earlier than he expected it. It’s unclear what he’ll do now. He probably didn’t expect to have to deal with this scenario at least for a few days. All 150 MPS and 76 Senators have travelled all the way back to Canberra for what they thought was going to be a few weeks of sitting, so it would be a terrible look if Turnbull turned around and called an election on Tuesday and sent them all home less than 48 hours after they arrived, at a cost of millions of dollars to the taxpayer.
But it appears that, even if the politicians were to stay in Canberra, they might be twiddling their thumbs in boredom. The ABCC bills have been rejected, the bills to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal have been passed exceptionally quickly, and all that is left is the Registered Organisations bill; but, as manager of opposition business Tony Burke angrily pointed out on Monday night, the House of Representatives has exactly zero business to deal with on Tuesday. Burke claimed the Registered Organisations bill had been dropped from the schedule.
In addition, the House of Representatives -- which usually opens in the morning, and runs until late at night -- will only sit from 12pm to 4pm, a remarkably brief period of time which includes an hour or so of Question Time and 30 minutes of short statements by MPs.
So there’s not much for our politicians to do, and with a July 2 election all but locked in, the government is essentially in caretaker mode, right? Wrong. There’s still the small matter of the federal budget on May 3. The parliament couldn’t really be dissolved before a budget is called.
So while Turnbull has until May 11 to call the double dissolution, he has a number of competing factors pulling him in different directions toward different dates for the announcement that we all know is coming. The public perceptions -- which will be hammered home by Labor -- that he is wasting time by not calling an election as soon as possible; the need to navigate the federal budget; the question of exactly what to do with all the MPs and Senators who have arrived back in Canberra at great expense to the taxpayer.
Turnbull did not speak on Monday night, so no doubt an announcement from the PM about his immediate strategy, and the immediate future of the parliament, will be coming on Tuesday.
Malcolm has the trigger. It’s now up to him as to when he pulls it, and indeed whether it will be a bullseye or a backfire.