Last week my parents were in Australia on holiday, and when they were there the main story on the television news was about a stalemate between the Government and two houses of representation. The media were forecasting that the Government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was about to be forced to issue an ultimatim to either let legislation pass or a double dissolution election would be called. At the weekend, Mr Turnbull’s patience finally ran out.
So, what caused the double dissolution election to be called?
At the heart of the problem is legislation to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which existed under the Government of Prime Minister John Howard but was scrapped by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. It is intended to rein in the CFMEU, the union arm of the industry, which Mr Turnbull’s Government thinks has gone rogue. However it is a major donor to both major parties and aside from Labor and the Greens some Senate independents voted with them as well.
The effect of this decision to call a double dissolution means Labor, the Greens and the independents are now on the defensive. If they continue to oppose him, they run the risk of being seen to support lawlessness in the building industry. That neutralizes his external foes.
However, although Mr Turnbull’s move enables him to send a message to both Houses that it would be wrong to mess with him, it carries significant risks given there are more destructive untamed elements such as former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Mr Abbott’s behaviour in particular has been damning, and just a year ago it looked like Mr Abbott’s leadership could be disastrous for the Liberal Party should Australia have to go to an early election. His front bench had – and still has – a collection of individuals such as Environment Minister Greg Hunt, Treasurer Scott Morrison and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, whose attitude to international affairs and international law is causing signficant harm.
Mr Turnbull, to his credit, has actually been surprisingly friendly to New Zealand. Indeed one of his first acts as Prime Minister was to meet with Prime Minister John Key, whose charismatic style he has tried to copy. Mr Turnbull is the only one of the Prime Ministers in the last 15 years to make any serious concessions regarding New Zealanders rights if they elect to move to Australia, an issue that has been causing significant angst. It remains to be seen what another Labor led Government would do for New Zealand, because despite the warm cozy rhetoric around the time of the Christchurch earthquake, it was just that: rhetoric.