14
Feb
2019

Border Controls; Early Election Now Likely

Morrison Says No Early Election – But For How Long Can He Run A Minority Government

On Tuesday I referred to Andrew Bolt’s suggestion on Sky News that the decision by Labor to push legislation through the lower House allowing asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island to “doctor” themselves to Australia for treatment without ministerial approval and, by obtaining court approval, to then “recuperate” here for a indefinite period. With the support of the Greens et al, this legislation has now passed the Senate too but, despite his strong attack on Shorten and accusation that he has broken what had seemed a bipartisan agreement on border control,  Morrison has said that he will not call an early election. Even so, Bolt tonight again repeated on Sky News his advocacy of an early election by taking advantage of the policy windfall provided by Labor.

Morrison’s attack on Shorten for showing “weakness” in handling Caucus is obviously correct (as the emergence of Deputy Albanese on TV suggests) and provides a useful stick for Morrison to use and argue that, if Labor were to win the election, they would again allow border controls to be breached. Morrison has already established that up to 300 refugees have obtained the approval of doctors to be transferred to Australia (see Possible Effects of Labor Legislation on Refugeesand Bolt Says Labor’s Legislation Allows Asylum Seekers to Come To Aus).  It seems likely that under Labor border controls would be eased and smugglers would again penetrate access in one way or another (see Sheridan Says Labor Shameful).

But as electorally beneficial as it would likely be, Morrison can’t rely only on using such a stick. Other policies need to be finalized and presented, including the budget.

It also remains to be seen how long he can run a minority government where there is an opposition which is able to force legislation right through Parliament and effectively change the Coalition’s policies on other matters too. There has already been a (failed) attempt today to establish a Royal Commission on some failure of access to disabilities and there will inevitably be a debate on aspects of the budget set to be presented in early April. That would provide Labor/Greens with opportunities to have amendments to the budget passed through Parliament not by the Coalition but by the Opposition.

Labor’s success in obtaining the passage of legislation on Manus/Nauran refugees has changed the management of government picture and makes it more realistic for the Coalition to think of an early election. This is not simply to take advantage of its win on border control strategy but to avoid the potential loss of control of Parliament and its own policies.

Energy Policy

I have already criticized the energy policy developed by Energy Minister Taylor particularly its retention of the targets for reducing emissions and his support for increased usage of renewable and the emergence of estimates of much higher costs for the latter than previously thought. I have also questioned the use of divestiture powers by a minister who would be doing so on the basis that he accepted advice that a company displayed “market disconduct” and was not allowing prices to fall.

Reports emerged this afternoon that, instead of voting on a bill to give effect to Taylor’s “model” (sic), Treasurer Frydenburg has announced that the divestiture power would become a component of election policies. He is reported as saying that

“Our legislation to prohibit energy market misconduct is an important reform that aims to hold the big energy companies to account and drive competition in the market and lower prices for consumers. We will be taking this policy to the election which forms our response to the ACCC inquiry into retail electricity prices. It was on the Labor Party’s watch when they were last in government that electricity prices doubled and now they are obstructing key reforms which save money for Australian families and businesses” (see Coalition Says Big Sticks Policy Now To Be Taken to The Election).

The report also makes it clear that had the government attempted to pass the bill now it would have faced major amendments from Labor. This seems to confirm that there is likely to be an early election – possibly immediately after the budget.

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