One of the enduring conventions of federal politics is the complete discretion of the Prime Minister of the day to nominate the election date. They have to do it within the rules of the constitution, not beyond three years and in a way that sees the fixed terms for the Senate obeyed. Scott Morrison is taking full advantage of the privileges afforded to him.
One advantage is he can keep the Opposition guessing. Already Labor had rushed its campaign staff to a donated building in Parramatta last weekend – fully expecting a May 11 date. The Liberals were more leisurely, setting up their campaign headquarters in Brisbane this week. But apart from Morrison’s inner sanctum – no one knows whether he will choose May 18 or May 25.
If it is May 18, the Prime Minister will have to take the drive to Yarralumla to advise the Governor General by this weekend for the minimum 33 days between when the present parliament is prorogued, or ended, and the actual election date. Otherwise, he can delay another week for the latest feasible date. Determining the latest date is the constitutional requirement for the new half Senate term to begin by July 1. The Australian Electoral Commission is on the record nominating May 18 to give itself time to finalise the count. To help them, the government has allocated an extra $10 million to hire more staff.
All the opinion polls for the past three years and the three published this week have the government staring down the barrel of defeat. The best “losing” result for the Coalition since the dumping of Malcolm Turnbull nine months ago was Monday’s Newspoll, widely seen as a post-Budget bounce. Not surprising given that Treasurer Frydenberg splashed the cash and cut almost nothing from anywhere. There was a slight movement back the Liberals’ way to trail Labor 48-52%.
There was a different message from the Ipsos Poll in the Sydney Morning Herald. This had Labor pulling ahead to a 53-47 lead. Also not surprising as Bill Shorten matched the government’s tax cuts to low and middle income earners to be delivered this year. Former Treasurer Peter Costello has rightly pointed out the Morrison promises of billions more tax cuts in 5 years’ time are pie in the sky. They are two elections away.
The average of all the polls is closer to the Ipsos result. Liberal sources say John Howard has advised Morrison to hang on for as long as possible. This of course frustrates the front running Labor Party and it risks looking desperate in the hope something turns up.
On the other hand, it gives the Prime Minister the ability to push to the limit all the advantages of incumbency; not the least, the millions of dollars of taxpayer funds available for multi media advertising. Based on figures previously released and tender documents, Labor says that’s $600,000 a day the Liberals don’t have to spend themselves.