February 26, 2016

Defence White Paper Release Increases Chances of an Early Election

Prime Minister Turnbull, statesmanlike, delivering the Defence White Paper yesterday - a good time to trigger an Early Election (soon). (Photo courtesy AAP via Capital Bay News)

Australian Defence White Papers are political documents with electoral aims due to their overt (or implied) spending promises. Ztev Konrad made some relevant comments along these lines in Comments [at 26/2/16 7:35 AM].

The 2016 Defence White Paper (DWP) has considerable next Election relevance although the vast sums being quoted by the Australian Government are unaffordable for the foreseeable future.

Normally the more respectable Australian strategic websites (even government funded think tanks) will not comment on the electoral choices of political bosses. Politically freethinking Submarine Matters cares not.

On February 8, 2016 I wrote Australian Tax Problems May Mean Early Election on Australia's falling tax base - government problems raising taxes - inability to fund popular programs including health, education and welfare. This all means budget shortfall. All increasing the chances that a Government may wish to go to Election before announcing an austerity Budget. 

The Government of Australian Prime Minister Turnbull's declining voting prospects (now running 50% - 50% with the Labor Opposition) are likely to be addressed by Turnbull before the opposition Labor Party becomes too popular. Like strategic competition its a zero sum game. Labor is creeping up in popularity a position likely to jump upwards after Turnbull releases an unpopular Budget in May 2016. 

I posit that there is a 60% likelihood that Turnball wants to go to a double dissolution triggered  Election in April 2016, before he has to present a very unpopular Federal Budget (set for May 10, 2016).

On February 26, 2016 The (Melbourne) Age commented "Turnbull is now actively weighing the double-dissolution option. And he is being urged to go soon by some who've been at this game a lot longer than he, among them the electorally canny Christopher Pyne.


Defence usually rates lower on the spending list than health, education and welfare unless there are compelling reasons like strategic need and votes. 

The DWP received a remarkably popular reception. Even the Labor Opposition have given it a seal of approval (bipartisan support).

The DWP underlines strategic need = China overall, particularly in the South China Sea. Voters made nervous rally around the incumbent chief ie. Turnbull's Government.

All of the spending promises in the DWP target votes particularly in the political swing state of South Australia. Manufacturing, design and sales communities all over Australia envisage that the DWP offers business and jobs.

It appears the DWP was published earlier than the "in first quarter 2016" expected. Governments are usually tardy - but the late norm of 31 March 2016 did not happen. Publishing a politically major document now gives political advantage electorally.

Turnbull has been positioning his Government for an early Election in other ways including:

The Turnbull Government is attempting to pass a measure with a time-frame just before an early election can be organised. To remove pesky minor parties and independents in the Senate “The government hopes to have the laws passed, after a short inquiry, before Parliament rises on March 17 2016… Labor is split internally over the issue, with leader Bill Shorten declining to outline his party's position on [February 22, 2016].

-  Turnbull has been making extravagant, out-of-character attacks on the opposition eg. Labor's proposed tax policies will "slash the value of Australian homes" which indicate he is worried about his Government's popularity.

-  Turnbull's courting of a more effective leader of his National Party Coalition partner, Barnaby Joyce. His relations with frequently brittle Joyce are currently good, implying good governance, though this political honeymoon cannot last.

Two bills dealing with restoring the building industry watchdog, which could provide a trigger for a double dissolution election, will be the subject of a public hearing on Thursday [March 4], ahead of the final report being tabled on March 15.

So like most major political documents the timing of the Defence White Paper's release was not arbitrary. Its Electoral significance can be demonstrated.



imacca said...

There is certainly bipartisan support for the White Paper, it seems a generally rational document from a Defense perspective, but any electorally relevant argument is going to be around "how does this get paid for".

Given the current state of policy (or not from the Govt) over Tax / Economy this is an argument he Govt has to engage in but isn't well equipped for.

Turnbulls tactic of outsourcing this to Martin Parkinson and apparently de-emphasisng Morrison's role is an interesting "courageous" move. Could bear fruit but remains to be seen.

Personally, I think that the govt will not get the electoral splash they are hoping for out of the White Paper. They are enabling (and some in the Libs are actually encouraging) too much "bright shiny thing" theater about other things that aren't policy / governance and they have lots of baggage from the disastrous 2014 Budget and "promises" of the 2013 campaign.

A DD election? Possibly, though the timing is horrendous.

I dont think they will do a Budget May 10, AND THEN dissolve both houses on the 11th (the last day they can under the constitution).

They MAY try and pass interim supply bills to enable a DD announcement before May 11th but there is no certainty they would pass. Chris Bowens latest comments on that is pure playing with Govt heads regardless of how they have been reported. :) If the govt tries then yes, a DD is on their agenda.

Or, they may take the simplest option, bring the Budget forward and keep their options open.

A complication either way is that they only have 9 scheduled sitting days left including May 11th before a DD possibility evaporates. If they want interim supply or a early Budget debated and passed they may have to try and schedule further sitting days.

The only certainties in Australian politics for now are lots of blog comments between now and then as everybody does their crystal ball gazing, vast numbers of column inches from MSM commentators of all sorts (most of which will be crap), and theater rather than substance in parliamentary question time.

Peter Coates said...

Hi imacca

I see the Turnbull Government's main problem as insufficient revenue to fund a budget sufficiently generous enought to ensure the Turnbull Government gets re-elected.

The sequence of holding an unfunded Budget or program slashing austerity Budget THEN an election might be the end of Turnbull.

Hence my Election first scenario.