Everything you need to know about Malcolm’s ‘Double D’

March 22, 2016 admin 0 Comments

Following Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement that the Federal Parliament will be recalled on April 18, Powell Tate Australia has outlined what you need to know about Malcolm’s ‘Double D’.

Background

Parliament it is not scheduled to sit until the formal budget week beginning May 10 to debate industrial relations bills.

The Bills would reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission and establish the Registered Organisations Commission. These Bills have already been rejected by the Senate.

If the Bills are not passed by May 11, Mr Turnbull says he will call a double dissolution election for July 2.

The Prime Minister has also announced that the Federal Budget will be announced one week earlier than the scheduled May 10. That is, Tuesday May 3.

What is a double dissolution?

Reported as a ‘DD’, a double dissolution simply means ‘the end of a parliament’. That is to say, both the Senate and the House of Representatives members will all face re-election.

(More information on this is at the Parliament of Australia website.)

Technically, for a double dissolution to occur, the Governor-General (after advice from the Prime Minister) dissolves both houses of the parliament simultaneously. That is, before all members’ and senators’ terms expires.

Usually this is done where the Senate and the House of Representatives can’t agree on the passage of one or more pieces of legislation.

DD elections are unusual (there have been six since 1914).

Federal elections usually consist of a full election for the lower house (House of Representatives), and an election for approximately half the membership of the Senate, held on the same day.

Terms of the Senate are fixed for six years except for the special situation of a double dissolution.

What is a caretaker Period?

Once a parliament is dissolved, Ministers are generally considered to not be accountable for decisions they may make. The so-called, Caretaker Conventions are intended to avoid any consequences of parliament not being able to scrutinize ministers.

Writs for an election must be issued within 10 days of a parliament being dissolved.   It is only after the writs are issued that the formal campaign begins and the government goes into caretaker mode.  Caretaker continues until the election result is clear or, if there is a change of government, until the new government is appointed and the next ministry is sworn in.

What happens during caretaker period of an election campaign?

During the caretaker period, successive governments have followed a series of practices, known as the ‘caretaker conventions’, which aim to ensure that their actions do not bind an incoming government and limit its freedom of action.

In summary, the conventions are that the government avoids:

  1. making major policy decisions that are likely to commit an incoming government;
  2. making significant appointments; and
  3. entering major contracts or undertakings.

Governments avoid entering major contracts or undertakings during the caretaker period.  When considering whether a contract or undertaking qualifies as ‘major’, agencies should consider the dollar value of the commitment and also whether the commitment involves a routine matter of administration or rather implements or entrenches a policy, program or administrative structure which is politically contentious.  A further consideration is whether the commitment requires ministerial approval.

If it is not possible to defer the commitment until after the caretaker period, for legal, commercial or other reasons, there are a number of options.  The Minister could consult the relevant Opposition spokesperson regarding the commitment.  Agencies could also explain the implications of the election to the contractor and ensure that contracts include clauses providing for termination in the event of an incoming government not wishing to proceed.  Similarly, in the case of tenders, agencies should warn potential tenderers about the implications of the election and the possibility that the tender might not be completed.

In 1976, the Government tabled Guidelines providing for pre-election consultation with the Opposition.  The Guidelines are intended to ensure a smooth transition if an election results in a change of government.

The Guidelines are distinct from the caretaker conventions and commence on a different date.  They apply as soon as an election for the House of Representatives is announced or three months before the expiry of the House of Representatives, whichever occurs first.

Under the special arrangement, Shadow Ministers may be given approval to have discussions with appropriate officials of Government departments.  Party Leaders may have other Members of Parliament or their staff members present.  A Departmental Secretary may have other officials present.

Developed by Powell Tate Australia.

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