The Senate is moving into its final sitting week until mid-August. As is usually the case, the government has a large pile of legislation it is insisting absolutely must be dealt by the end of the week. As is also often the case, this includes one highly contentious piece of legislation – the Carbon Pollution Reduction (or emissions trading) Scheme (CPRS) – which is grabbing most of the attention and which could easily take a week just on its own to fully debate.
Dark threats are being made by the government of making the Senate sit through the Friday and into the weekend for as long as it takes to deal with all the legislation, or even calling the Senate back for an extra week’s sitting sometime in July. Adding to the atmosphere is the speculation that the CPRS Bill, which almost certainly will not gain the necessary votes in the Senate to pass, is being lined up as a trigger to call an early double dissolution election before the end of the year. Various advices, some formal and some not so formal, will be thrown around about whether adjourning debate – and a final Senate vote – on the legislation until August would meet the definition of “failure to pass” under Section 57 of the Constitution, and thus start the clock ticking on the three months required before the government can reintroduce the Bill to see if the Constitutional requirements for a double dissolution election are met by the Senate failing to pass the Bill a second time.
The atmosphere is further ‘enriched’ by significant differences within and between both Coalition parties, adding to the general tetchiness and aggravation that will no doubt grow as the week progresses. The unfortunate ‘babygate’ incident at the end of the previous week, and the extraordinary vitriol heaped on Senator Hanson-Young as a consequence of what was obviously a totally innocent action, probably won’t help add to the goodwill in the final week.
There is also the uncertainty over whether the two Independent Senators will support any Coalition efforts to adjourn a final vote on the Bill until August. It might all be ‘resolved’ first thing Monday afternoon, if the Coalition and the Independents decide to immediately adjourn further debate until August. Or the uncertainty about when the definitive Senate vote for or against the legislation could drag on right through the week and into Friday.
Leaving aside the CPRS and early elections for a moment, one almost certain outcome of all this argy-bargy, agitation and speculation about the CPRS is that inadequate attention will be given to some of the other pieces of legislation that will be pushed through along the way. One other near certainty is that whenever the Senate vote on the legislation is put, it will be defeated – probably at the Second Reading stage.
In my view, the chances of the Senate sitting into Friday is fairly high. It is unlikely it will go all the way into Saturday. Regardless of what threats may be hinted at, the chances of the Senate being recalled for an extra week’s sitting in July is zero and the chances of an election being called before the end of the year are almost as low.
This year would be seen as just too soon by many people. In addition, an election called before the significant redistributions in Queensland and New South Wales are finished would create a very messy situation which would be unlikely to help the government. That doesn’t mean the double dissolution trigger for an early election couldn’t be pulled sometime early next year.
Regardless of whether the next election is a double-dissolution which elects the full Senate, or the standard half-Senate election, it is a virtual certainty that the Greens will have the balance of power afterwards. The key factor is that the Coalition will lose at least one in Queensland, where their fortuitous four seats out of six haul cannot be repeated now that the Liberals and Nationals are running on a joint ticket. They may well lose one or two more, but one is enough to give the Greens the balance of power, regardless of whether the Greens add to their tally or not.
ELSEWHERE: Tim Colebatch in The Age gives an outline of what might (or might not) happen to the CPRS in the Senate this week.