Monday, 12 August 2013

Australian Federal Election 2013: the howling begins over caretaker period conventions

ABC News 9 August 2013:

The Opposition has lashed out at the Government's decision to continue an ad blitz about its asylum seeker policy, accusing it of trashing the caretaker conventions.
The ad campaign warns asylum seekers they no longer have the option of being settled in Australia if they arrive by boat.
Special Minister of State Mark Dreyfus has given approval for the ads to continue to run in Australia and overseas, despite the election campaign being in full swing…
Shadow attorney-general George Brandis says the Government has broken the "unwritten rules of the Constitution", and committed an "unprecedented and flagrant breach" of the caretaker convention.
He says Opposition Leader Tony Abbott wrote to Mr Dreyfus saying that while the Coalition agreed to most of the proposals, it did not agree to any onshore ads during the election campaign….
Mr Burke says there is a precedent for government advertising to continue during election campaigns.
As an example, he cited a 2004 ad campaign designed to encourage Australians to report signs of terrorism following a bombing near the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.
"On that occasion under the Howard government, the leader of the opposition put forward suggestions. Some of those suggestions were taken up, some were not and the campaign went ahead," Mr Burke said….
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says the asylum seeker campaign is a "shameless and desperate" grab for votes….

According to Rupert Murdoch's Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's formal response ran thus:

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Abbott made clear he would not give the green light to such a campaign.
"We do not support the continuation of a multimillion-dollar taxpayer-funded campaign aimed at Australian voters, rather than people residing overseas," the Opposition leader wrote.
"If the government wants to stop people getting on boats overseas, then it should advertise overseas. But advertising in Australia, to Australians, in an election campaign is nothing more than a blatant misuse of taxpayer money for political purposes," he said.
"All asylum seeker advertising for Australian audiences and paid for by the taxpayer is opposed and under the caretaker conventions must cease immediately."

By 10 August, Murdoch's The Australian was reporting:

Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis said the caretaker conventions were "part of the Constitution" and "it is unlawful to violate them".

So what are Scott Morrison and George Brandis howling about?

The general definition of the 'caretaker period' is a period which occurs when the House of Representatives expires or is dissolved ahead of a general election or there is a simultaneous dissolution of both the Senate and House ahead of a general election - a double dissolution. The period ends when the incumbent Government has been re‑elected or a new Government has been sworn in.

Practical implementation of this caretaker period is set out as a series of conventions which officially commence when election writs are issuedThey are neither strict rules nor law but guidelines and, are not directly enforceable by the courts.

Such conventions do not form part of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution

6.1 Advertising and Information Campaigns

6.1.1 The Department of Finance and Deregulation and PM&C reviews all advertising campaigns at the beginning of the caretaker period and recommends whether those campaigns should continue or be deferred. Bipartisan agreement is sought for campaigns that are to continue. Campaigns that highlight the role of particular Ministers or address issues that are a matter of contention between the parties are normally discontinued. Campaigns that are of an operational nature, such as defence force recruiting campaigns or public health campaigns, usually continue.

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