Solicitor-General’s advice on Dutton’s eligibility to come before Friday Liberal vote


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will invite a leadership “spill” motion at midday Friday, once a majority of Liberals formally ask for a party meeting.

He will not contest the subsequent ballot if – as anticipated – the spill is carried, Turnbull announced to a lunchtime Thursday news conference.

Before the meeting, the Solicitor-General on Friday will provide an opinion on the constitutional eligibility to sit in parliament of challenger Peter Dutton.

Early Thursday afternoon, the final signatures for the party meeting request were being gathered.

The delay and the early provision of the Solicitor-General’s advice give Treasurer Scott Morrison extra opportunity to build support for his own bid for the leadership as an alternative to Dutton.

After a morning of chaos and multiple ministerial resignations, including that of Senate leader Mathias Cormann, Turnbull told his news conference that if he is ousted he will quit parliament – increasing the prospect of an early election.

He said he had “made it very clear that I believe former prime ministers are best out of the parliament”.

The government has a one seat of majority and his seat of Wentworth, although it has a strong margin, would be vulnerable in a byelection because Turnbull is personally very popular there. A byelection would not be needed if there were an early election.

Turnbull said that assuming the spill was carried, the new prime minister would “have to obviously satisfy the Governor-General that they can command a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives.

“In the case of Mr Dutton, I think he’ll have to establish that he is eligible to sit in the Parliament.”

Turnbull delivered a swingeing attack on those who have undermined him.

“A minority in the party room, supported by others outside the parliament, have sought to bully, intimidate others into making this change of leadership that they’re seeking.

“It’s been described by many people, including those who feel they cannot resist it as a form of madness,” he said.

“It is remarkable we’re at this point, where only a month ago we were [in the public polling] just little bit behind Labor and in our own polls a little bit ahead – but in any view thoroughly competitive.”

Turnbull has been under consistent assault not only from Tony Abbott and other Liberal critics over a range of issues, especially energy policy and immigration, but also from commentators in the Newscorp media, especially on Sky, and from shock jocks on 2GB.

Turnbull said that what was happening was “a very deliberate effort to pull the Liberal party further to the right.”

Stressing how vital it was to resolve the issue of Dutton’s eligibility, he said: “This is a very, very significant point. As we all know, section 44 has been a companion of this 45th parliament.

“I cannot underline too much how important it is that anyone who seeks to be prime minister of Australia is eligible to be a member of parliament – because a minister, let alone a prime minister, who is not eligible to sit in the House is not capable of validly being a minister or exercising any of the powers of a minister.”

Legal experts suggest Dutton could be ineligible under the constitution’s section 44 provision on pecuniary interests. This says a person is incapable of sitting if they have “any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth”.

Dutton through a family trust has an interest in child care centres that receive Commonwealth funding. The key question is whether this involves an agreement with the public service.

Dutton’s legal advice is that he has no constitutional problem, and on Thursday he issued updated legal advice.

The government shut down the House of Representatives but does not command the numbers in the Senate so had to endure question time with senior ministers who had resigned on the backbench.

3:15pm

UPDATE: JULIE BISHOP JOINS THE RACE

Liberal deputy and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will throw her hat into the leadership ring.

Bishop, from Western Australia, has been deputy Liberal leader since 2007 under multiple leaders. She is a moderate, rates well in the opinion polls, and has a high profile internationally as well as locally. She is in much demand from backbenchers to visit their seats and is a good fund raiser.

But she will go into the ballot with the disadvantage of having made many enemies in a long political history.

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Her entry into the field complicates the situation and makes the outcome even less certain.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

After messy night, Coalition more likely to form government – but Pauline Hanson is in the Senate


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

After counting into the early hours of Sunday morning, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) currently has Labor leading in 72 of the 150 lower house seats, with the Coalition ahead in 66.

There are seven not-yet-determined seats, where the AEC selected the wrong candidates to count on a two-party-preferred basis and now has to realign the count. The Coalition will win five of those seven seats, and Labor one, bringing the totals to 73 for Labor and 71 for the Coalition.

However, late counting, particularly of postal votes, favours the Coalition. The AEC lists five seats as close, and in three of those Labor is narrowly ahead. If the Coalition wins these three on late counting, the Coalition would lead the seat count 74-70. Other seats where Labor currently leads could also be won by the Coalition on late counting.

Current sitting crossbenchers Bob Katter, Andrew Wilkie, Cathy McGowan and Adam Bandt easily retained office, and will be joined by the Nick Xenophon Team’s (NXT) Rebekha Sharkie, who crushed Liberal Jamie Briggs in Mayo.

The NXT could win a second seat in Grey, one of the seven seats where the AEC needs to realign the count.

However, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott both lost their bids to return. The Greens are unlikely to win a second seat.

Labor gained all three Tasmanian seats that were previously held by the Coalition, and also gained Solomon in the Northern Territory. Labor gained seven seats in New South Wales, at least two in Queensland and at least one in Western Australia.

However, the Liberals have a good chance of gaining Chisholm from Labor in Victoria, perhaps owing to the state government’s dispute with the Country Fire Authority.

The current primary votes are 41.8% for the Coalition (down 3.7% on 2013 election figures), 35.3% for Labor (up 1.9%), and 10% for the Greens (up 1.3%). “Others” have a collective 12.9% (up 6%). In South Australia, the NXT won 21% of the vote. The Coalition and Greens are likely to gain a little at the expense of Labor in late counting.

Kevin Bonham says the current two-party swing against the Coalition in the 138 classic Coalition vs Labor seats is 3.3%, which will probably moderate to 3% when counting is finalised. The Coalition is thus likely to win the two-party count by about 50.5%-49.5%, but will lose many more seats than it should have based on sophomore effects. Perhaps Labor’s marginal seats campaign was strong enough to overcome sophomore effects.

Sitting members usually have small personal votes that are not associated with their parties. When one party wins a seat from another party’s sitting member, they should get an additional boost at the next election, but this didn’t appear to happen last night.

The final pre-election polls were very close to the overall primary and two-party figures, but single seat polls were poor. Yet again, national polls were much better than seat polls.

Though it is unlikely Labor will form the next government, this is a much better result for Labor and Bill Shorten than was expected, particularly when Malcolm Turnbull was riding high in the polls after deposing Tony Abbott.

For Turnbull and the Coalition, this was a bad result. However, it is clear that Turnbull’s popularity dropped between February and April as he abandoned his more “liberal” approaches to climate change, same-sex marriage and other issues. Had Turnbull been more progressive on some issues, it is likely he would have been comfortably re-elected.

Reformed system produces even messier Senate

Even if the Coalition scrapes out a lower house majority, it will have fewer senators than it currently has.

One of the newly elected senators will be Pauline Hanson. Here is the Senate table, based on results at the ABC. There are 76 total senators.

Senate make-up at the time of writing.

The three definite “Others” are Pauline Hanson in Queensland, Derryn Hinch in Victoria and Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania. Most of the undecided seats will be contested by micro parties, with One Nation in the race for other seats.

The Coalition had 33 seats in the old Senate, so this will be reduced. This will make it difficult to pass the industrial relations bills that were the reason a double-dissolution election was called, even with a joint sitting.

Normally only six senators for each state would be up for election, but as this election was a double dissolution all 12 were up. The quota for election was reduced from 14.3% to 7.7%, and this has benefited smaller parties.

Under the old Senate system, it would have been possible to calculate Senate seats using the group voting tickets. As preferences are now up to voters, it is unlikely we will know the outcome of some of the undecided Senate seats until the AEC has data entered all votes and pressed the “button” on its computer system, probably by late July or early August.

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Adrian Beaumont, PhD Student, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 19 August 2013