Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Australian Federal Election 2016: is the country really going to the polls on 2 July?

On 18 April 2016 the Australian Senate again failed to pass the Turnbull Government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) bill - this time by two votes.

A fact which gave the prime minister the double-dissolution trigger he was hoping for and an apparently favoured poll date – 2 July 2016.

If this is indeed his preferred date, then the election writs need to be issued no later than 31 May, as there is a mandatory minimum 33 days between writs and polling day.

The 2016-17 budget speech is scheduled to be delivered on 3 May, the appropriation bills are then submitted to the House of Representatives later that same day or the next and read a first and second time.

With the Leader of the Opposition’s budget reply speech expected on 5 May, all appears well with Turnbull’s time table. He has twenty-six days up his sleeve before having to quit governing to enter the official election campaign period.


The debate on the second reading of Appropriation Bill (No. 1) is known as the ‘Budget debate’ and normally continues over a period of several weeks. The scope of discussion in the Budget debate is almost unlimited because the debate on the main Appropriation Bill is exempt from the standing order (rule) which requires the second reading debate on other bills to be strictly relevant to the bill. The standing order allows debate on appropriation bills to cover matters relating to ‘public affairs’. This is interpreted to mean any matters concerning government policy or administration. [Australian Parliament, Infosheet 10 - The budget and financial legislation]

In 2015 it took forty days for the House of Representatives to finish debating Appropriation Bill (No. 1) -  the bill covering money out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for ordinary annual services of government.

Government has the numbers in the Lower House and can possibly truncate this debate – but not by much and not without alienating a substantial numbers of voters.

At this point Turnbull’s twenty-six day leeway may be dwindling down to less than 14 days. Still, getting to the 31 May writs deadline with the main appropriations bill passed looks vaguely possible.


Before they become law the three main budget appropriation bills must be passed by the Senate in the same way as any other bills. [ibid]

Two years ago the Senate took a mere two days to send the main appropriation bill back down to the House of Representatives. Last year the senators took only one day.

This year the 'reformed' Senate may just decide to debate this bill a good while longer and, it will serve the prime minister right if the cross-bench runs him down to the wire on this.

Of course Turnbull could go to an election without money from consolidated revenue being guaranteed for 1 July 2016 through to 30 June 2017.

It’s just that this would be such a slapdash look for a former investment banker who portrays himself and his government as good economic managers.

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