We’re in for an exciting few weeks starting at 5.00pm tonight when Parliament is prorogued. All proceedings will come to an end and Parliamentary business will lapse.
Then the Governor-General will fire up a new session of Parliament at 9.30am on Monday.
As we discovered a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister can request that the Governor-General prorogue the Parliament and force the Senate back by using section 5 of the Constitution:
Section 5 Sessions of Parliament. Prorogation and dissolution
The Governor‑General may appoint such times for holding the sessions of the Parliament as he thinks fit, and may also from time to time, by Proclamation or otherwise, prorogue the Parliament, and may in like manner dissolve the House of Representatives.
The Prime Minister is keen for the Senate to either pass the ABCC Bills, or reject them so that they become a trigger for a double dissolution election. He has already announced that a double dissolution will be held on 2 July if the Senate does not pass the Bills.
The crossbench, Green and Labor Senators are not that happy about being forced back to Canberra early. This could be because each House of Parliament chooses its own sitting weeks and is not normally dictated to from the Executive.
A proposed revised parliamentary sitting calendar was released last Monday that shows the House sitting for two days (Monday and Tuesday next week), coming back the day before the 3 May budget and then sitting for two weeks to pass the budget. The proposed calendar shows the Senate sitting for the next four weeks straight (minus the public holiday).
The Senate did not choose these dates and so the updated sitting days will need to be voted on in the Senate on Monday. Some Senators have been a bit cranky, so we will have to wait and see how long they vote to sit for.
In fact, until yesterday it was uncertain whether the Senate would immediately move a motion and vote to adjourn themselves before completing any Parliamentary business.
Malcolm Farr from news.com.au wrote earlier this week that we could have had a series of power-plays and a never-ending cycle of parliamentary shut-downs and then re-openings. The Senate could shut itself down on Monday and then the Prime Minister could ask the Governor-General to prorogue Parliament again and recall the parliament the following day. This could have gone on and on.
However, yesterday Labor Senate Leader Penny Wong announced that Labor had decided that they won’t be delaying the vote on the ABCC Bills. She stated:
I want to make clear what Labor has decided: we will deal with these bills. We won’t be delaying….if Malcolm Turnbull wants a double-dissolution election, we’re ready for an election. This election will be about jobs, health and education.
So Labor is ready to vote these Bills down and go to a double dissolution election on 2 July.
Over at the monthly and the SMH they are reporting that the PM has effectively given away the advantage of election timing to the crossbench. If they want an early election they won’t pass the ABCC Bills, if they want a later election they can pass them.
The Greens and Labor are opposed to the ABCC and so the Government needs the support of six of the eight crossbenchers to pass the Bills. Across the media there are reports of varying numbers of crossbenchers that might support the Bills. However, there is only one definite supporter and that is South Australian Senator Bob Day.
A number of crossbenchers have requested amendments to the ABCC Bills so that they include corruption in other industries and government. If the PM backs out of the double dissolution we may end up with a federal ICAC. This could be popular with the electorate.
Anthony Whealy, Chairman of Transparency International Australia, writes in the Australian newspaper today that a broader anti-corruption body is required to tackle the risks of corruption:
For three years in a row, Australia has been slipping on the worldwide Corruption Perceptions Index, compiled by Transparency International. In January, we announced our reputation has fallen to being the 13th cleanest country — from sixth position as recently as 2012….
As a result, we suggest the government needs to take two relatively simple steps:
- Broaden the proposed re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission to create a body that is better equipped to tackle criminal corruption across a wider range of industries, and in unions and business alike.
- Initiate separate reforms to better co-ordinate anti-corruption measures within the federal government itself, including proper processes for examining options such as a national integrity commission and parliamentary integrity commissioner.
Transparency International’s recommendation is to go forwards, rather than back, and create an Australian serious fraud and corruption office.
It will definitely be a fascinating week in Parliament. If you thought the Senate was feral in the past, you probably haven’t seen anything yet. It has been reported that Labor will force a quick vote on the Bills, which might cause some disruption.
MPs are only required to come back because they need to be there for the official ceremony and as the ABCC Bills originated in the House of Representative it is that House that has to formally reintroduce them. It is still unclear whether we will have a question time on the two proposed sitting days. In any case it is likely that the House will also be disruptive. The Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke has already stated:
By not holding Question Time each and every day the Senate is sitting when Parliament returns, Malcolm Turnbull is evading 100 questions….We have a part-time Prime Minister who's going to turn up in Canberra, perform a stunt and then run away.
It’s certainly an exciting time to be interested in Constitutional affairs. This afternoon Section 5 is being exercised and perhaps next week we’ll know if section 57 might be used to call a double dissolution election. This weekend might be the calm before the storm!