A DOUBLE DISSOLUTION — properly considered, properly prepared and properly executed — is an option this column canvassed ten weeks ago as one that could crush Bill Shorten and Labor; talk of such an election now in Coalition circles does not satisfy these criteria: having made few internal changes of note and totally unready on policy, strategy and tactics, any attempt by the government to call one now would lead to certain defeat.
It’s a fairly straightforward post from me this morning, the usual midweek caveats around time constraints applying; in truth, I write today simply to round out a discussion chain that began back in early January, for what could have been the Abbott government’s nuclear weapon would likely explode in its own silo if the election chatter that has reached the press were to be acted upon.
Ten weeks ago, I wrote in this column that in attempting to gain some kind of control over Parliament, the political agenda and to rescue its sagging fortunes, a double dissolution election represented an option for the government that, properly executed, could bury Bill Shorten and the ALP: this article can be accessed here, and I strongly urge readers (including those who perused this piece when it was first posted) to do so again today.
Once people have read that, this article from the Fairfax press (I could as easily have used something from Murdoch) should be the next item on the reading list.
I am commenting on this issue today because quite clearly, the election speculation that has now found its way into the mainstream press could hardly be said to be founded on a process of proper consideration or planning; rather than being used as a tool to secure passage of a swathe of critical, efficacious and wide-ranging reforms, the imperative seems merely to be the all-or-nothing notion that if pushed into a choice, voters would re-elect Tony Abbott: immunising (for now) his leadership of the Liberal Party from future assault.
This — to be completely blunt — is a ridiculous proposition that would merit election defeat if attempted and, were the Coalition to embark on that particular course, would almost certainly reap precisely that consequence.
Fairfax (and again, we could be using a reference from one of the Murdoch titles: the points covered are the same) is reporting that the idea (said to have been dismissed by Cabinet) would be for Treasurer Joe Hockey to deliver his second budget in May, then have the government race off to an early election for both Houses of Parliament “to clear an obstructionist Senate.”
The idiotic perils posed by this formula literally begin right there, with the fact Hockey is able to deliver a second budget at all — and the fact he remains Treasurer after the pre-Christmas reshuffle that was so spectacularly botched — a political danger which, based on form to date, inspires little confidence that such a budget would even be electorally saleable, let alone whether any competent effort to sell it at all materialises in due course.
And the whole point of using a double dissolution to “clear an obstructionist Senate” is to pass a backlog of twice-rejected bills to engineer the passage of a government’s program into law: to this end, the only trigger open to the Abbott government is the rejection of a couple of measures peripheral to the abolition of the carbon tax last year.
Even if augmented, as chatter suggests, by a second rejection of the government’s higher education reforms, these two packets of legislation hardly constitute a rallying call for a second term, let alone offering a “crucial” set of reforms that would enshrine a substantial legacy for the government.
In the past couple of days I have noticed the January article on a double dissolution election starting to again attract reader traffic, and this has partially motivated the decision to revisit the subject this morning.
And whilst I stand by the case it contains — as posted in January, and reflective of events and circumstances as they stood ten weeks ago — I must point out that few (if any) of the preconditions set out in it have been met.
The government has not walked away from those measures from Hockey’s budget that have failed to pass the Senate, ruled off underneath last year’s shocker and moved to start from scratch; indeed, every time Abbott, Hockey and their colleagues declare their determination to implement those politically toxic initiatives, they merely reinforce the inclination of voters to desert the government at the ballot box.
To the extent any attempt has been made to recast the case for tough remedial budget action, it has been half-hearted: a good example of this is the recently released Intergenerational Report, which — like the report from the Commission of Audit in late 2013 — has already disappeared into the political ether as events have been allowed by government strategists to pass them by.
It remains to be seen whether Hockey delivers what I termed “a real emergency budget” in May but the portents are not good: the same people spouting the same rhetoric, with the same faulty approach that has served the government so poorly to date, making a second attempt to undertake the task they mishandled so stunningly last year does not appear to be a recipe for achieving political success.
The confused, mixed, turgid messages emanating from the government continue apace; the continuing saga of a government that is unable to sell its initiatives has seen Medicare transformed into a veritable talisman of political death for the Coalition this year, whilst “reforms” to the university sector have similarly placed an albatross around the government’s neck.
I could go on — for the list of reasons why what could have been a masterstroke is now a doomsday option is without end.
But the simple truth is that flirting with a double dissolution, having failed to address everything that is wrong with it, simply threatens to speed the government’s passage back to opposition if it were to be acted on.
And the idea the Prime Minister could do so merely to head off further threats to his leadership, having asked to be given until June to sort his government out and having ostensibly failed to do so at this time, is a contemptible consideration of the misuse of the imprimatur of his office in relation to election timing, and would constitute the culpable indulgence of a personal whim whilst the governance and political welfare of Australia’s future was gambled in order to slake it.
In short, the government has done nothing this year to suggest it would fare any better at a double dissolution election than it would at an ordinary one based on its present standing and trajectory in the polls, and that standing, of course, is very parlous indeed.
I know I said in January that it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees, but moving toward a double dissolution now — having done nothing in the big scheme of things to retrieve their position and to rectify the misfiring apparatuses of state — would simply prove the Prime Minister and his government harbour a death wish.