The first two weeks of the new Senate have made the prospect of an early double dissolution election more likely. John Quiggin is right to argue that “the rejection of the government’s changes to luxury car tax shortens the odds considerably.”
There are three main factors which make me think a double dissolution is quite likely, with the only caveat being that Kevin Rudd would need to be convinced he had a good enough justification to avoid being punished electorally for calling an early election.
First, the Senate looks very likely to deliver Kevin Rudd more than enough reason to credibly justify a double dissolution. Secondly, all the smaller players in the Senate stand to come out a double dissolution better off. Thirdly, a double dissolution is very likely to produce a new Senate which will be much easier for Labor to deal with than the current Senate.
Every new federal government since at least Menzies has called an early election. Having major measures repeatedly blocked by the Senate is a credible reason for a government to call a double dissolution election. Indeed it is the whole rationale behind the double dissolution trigger in the Constitution – to resolve a dispute between the two houses of Parliament.
If it is not possible for sufficient common ground to be reached to enable a measure like the luxury car tax to be passed by the Senate, it suggests the chances of getting majority Senate support for legislation around an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) are almost zero.
The ETS is a difficult issue politically, so Labor would probably be anxious about running an election campaign predominantly around that issue. But if the Senate blocks a lot of other measures besides an ETS, Kevin Rudd can easily make an early double dissolution election all about the issue of enabling the government to implement their economic agenda, which is a much easier message to campaign on.
Labor has the added incentive that a double dissolution election would almost certainly lead to a new Senate which is much more favourable for them. Even if Labor’s overall Senate numbers didn’t increase, simple mathematics says the Coalition would almost certainly lose some seats under a double dissolution even if their primary vote improves. Labor’s Senate problem is not the high number of minor party Senators, it is the very high number of seats the Coalition has. The more this drops, the greater the chance that Labor will have a Senate makeup where they would only need the support of the Greens to get things through – a far easier task than they have at the moment.
A double dissolution also suits the interests of all the smaller players in the Senate. It would certainly suit Fielding, who has almost no chance of holding his seat otherwise. It wouldn’t hurt Xenophon at all, and could even give him a chance of getting a running mate in with him, it would almost certainly increase the Greens’ overall numbers. The Greens would be at risk of losing one of their two WA Senators, but would more than make up for that with gains in other states, including gaining their first ever Senators in Queensland and Victoria.