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Federal Election 2016
 
8 May 2016
  
After several weeks of waiting, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier this afternoon visited the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, to officially fire the starting pistol on the 2016 Federal Election. In backing his commitment to call a double dissolution election should the Government’s key pieces of industrial relations legislation not be passed during the special sitting of Parliament last month, Prime Minister Turnbull has requested that both houses of the current Parliament be dissolved and an election held on 2 July.
 
In the first double dissolution in nearly 30 years, the Government is seeking a mandate for the passage of its Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 and the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013. Should the Government be returned, these Bills can be put to a special joint sitting of the House of Representatives and Senate at the first sitting of the new Parliament.
 
In making his announcement, the Prime Minister said this election will be very clear choice between the Coalition’s plans for jobs and growth or Labor's plan for higher taxes which, he said, would hinder the nation’s transition to the new economy. Mr Turnbull again asserted the importance of the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission as 'vital economic reform' and critical to the nation's continued success.
 
In response, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said this election will be a referendum on jobs, schools, a fairer tax system and keeping Medicare in public hands. Mr Shorten said the Labor Party entered the campaign as underdogs, but stood united and ready for the election.
 
Tax is shaping up to be a key battleground of this election after Opposition Leader Bill Shorten refused to support Malcolm Turnbull’s business tax cuts, among the most important initiatives in the Government’s budget handed down last Tuesday.
 
The Senate outcome from this election will be of particular interest, with all 76 Senators vacating their seats under the double dissolution and a new method of voting in place following passage of reforms earlier this year – it is remains to be seen whether these voting changes will significantly re-shape the Senate.
 
At nearly eight weeks, this will be one of the longest election campaigns in the nation’s history beaten only by Robert Menzies’ 94-day campaign in 1954, an era before television, social media and the 24-hour news cycle. A lengthy campaign is not without risk for the Prime Minister and will challenge the Coalition’s perseverance and ability to maintain momentum – and the public’s interest.
 
Further reading
 
The Landscape – and the Numbers
 
The Government begins the election campaign trailing Labor 51-49 on the two party-preferred vote in the latest Newspoll published on 18 April – but with the reassurance that every first term government has been returned since 1929. Also in the Government’s favour is the Coalition’s 14 seat margin and Mr Turnbull’s lead over Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister by 47 to 28 per cent.
 
Labor needs 19 additional lower house seats to govern in its own right and must do well in NSW, where the Government currently holds 10 seats on a margin of less than four per cent, including two – Dobell (on the NSW Central Coast) and Paterson (in the Hunter Region) – which are now notionally Labor seats after electoral boundary redistributions. Superficially at least, Queensland remains a safer state for the Coalition, with only three seats – Petrie, Capricornia, Bonner – on margins under 4 per cent and the likely bonus of  regaining Fairfax from the retiring Clive Palmer. The Liberals face a tough challenge for the seat of Indi in Victoria however, where popular Independent Cathy McGowan is facing off against former member Sophie Mirabella. Other key battleground electorates for the Coalition in Victoria include Deakin, Corangamite and La Trobe.
 
In South Australia, the Labor Party could pick up as many as three seats as the Government faces a potential voter backlash over the closure of the Holden automotive plant and an emerging threat from the newly formed Nick Xenophon Party, which is likely to take first preference votes away from both major parties.
 
In Tasmania, it will be challenging for the Government to hold on to Lyons but it will be hoping to retain its two remaining seats of Braddon and Bass. The Coalition’s Northern Territory seat of Solomon is at risk, while Western Australia – which gains a seat under the recent boundary redistribution – is seen as likely to produce a status quo result.
 
GRACosway will continue to provide regular updates throughout the election campaign.
 
Double Dissolution
 
A double dissolution occurs when both the Senate and the House of Representatives are dissolved in order for a federal election to take place. In contrast to a regular election in which only half the Senate seats are contested, all 76 seats are up for election at a double dissolution poll – the only circumstance in which all Senators stand for election at the same time. With a doubling of the number of Senators to be elected from each state, the quota necessary to be elected is reduced from 14.3 per cent to 7.7 per cent.  
 
Section 57 of the Constitution states that a Prime Minister may call for a double dissolution when the Senate twice rejects or fails to pass a Bill, or passes it with amendments to which the House will not agree, in a period at least three months apart. A double dissolution cannot be granted within six months of the expiry of the House of Representatives (11 November 2016), making 11 May the last possible day the Prime Minister could have called the election.
 
Since Australia’s federation in 1901, there have been six double dissolution elections, with Bob Hawke the last Prime Minister to call one over the Australia Card Bill in 1987. His government was returned but the Australia Card did not eventuate.
 
Termination of Parliament and Committees
 
For an election to be held, the existing session of Parliament must first be terminated. This is usually done by the Governor-General on the advice of the Government, dissolving only the House of Representatives while the Senate continues. When the House is dissolved, its Members cease to be Members and House committees are terminated, while Senators maintain their positions and Senate committees may continue to meet. However, with the dissolution of the Senate at this election as well, all Senators cease to hold office and all Senate committees cease to exist.
 
Caretaker Conventions
 
In accordance with longstanding constitutional conventions, the Australian Government enters a period of ‘caretaker government’ during the election period. Over this period, the Government does not make any important decisions that would bind an incoming government or limit its ability to freely govern. The caretaker role the Government assumes is based on the premise that with an election comes the possibility of a change of government.
 
Under the conventions the Government is to avoid:
 
  • Making major policy decisions;
  • Making significant appointments; and
  • Entering major contracts or undertakings.

 
If circumstances require government action contrary to these conventions, the Government is expected to consult with the Opposition. During the caretaker period, the Australian Public Service also follows a number of practices to avoid any perceptions of partisanship; however, the machinery of government continues.
 
The caretaker period continues until the election result is known or until the new government is appointed, should there be a change of government. Further guidance on Caretaker Conventions can be accessed here.
 

About GRACosway
GRACosway is Australia's leading public affairs and corporate and financial communications counsel, and has been assisting organisations understand and navigate elections at federal and state levels for over 20 years. The firm provides a full suite of integrated services to a range of domestic and international clients across all industry sectors, including public policy, communications, regulatory, issues management and media relations advice. From offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Perth (GRA Everingham), GRACosway’s clients benefit from the combined experience, expertise and strategic perspective of our team of professionals in addressing complex and commercially sensitive projects. For more information, visit www.gracosway.com.au
 
GRACosway is a Member of the Clemenger Group. 
Copyright © 2014 GRACosway, All rights reserved.

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