Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Constitutional implications

of a change in Prime Minister at this point in Federal politics are not something I know a great deal about but one of the regular readers of this blog left me an e-mail yesterday and asked, "Can they really change the Prime Minister now so close to an election?"
The answer to that is, "They could try."
It is getting more difficult. For those of you who are interested I will try to explain from my limited knowledge of Australian Constitutional Law - and hope that my old law professor, Leslie Zines, does not have a red pen ready. 
I think I am correct in saying that the Prime Minister yesterday attended the last official Caucus meeting before the election. If a move was going to be made then that would have been one obvious place to make it. 
There were several ways to do it. She could have resigned - very unlikely. Kevin Rudd (the chief contender) could have challenged - very unlikely. There could have been a sort of petition by at least a third of the Caucus. Apparently that did not happen. They may think they did not have the necessary support.
The other suggestion has been that a move will be made after Thursday of next week. That will mean after that the final Question Time before the election is over. 
It could be done but there is a problem. The government depends on the vote of "independents". The opposition - rightly - would almost certainly want to insist on the support of the independents being tested on the floor of the house. That would mean an extra sitting of parliament - at huge expense if members had already left Canberra. They could decide not to do that but either way they would have more ammunition for the election if there was a change of leadership.
My sources in Canberra say that there has not been any frenetic level of activity between members of the government and the independents so it is possible they are not being lobbied about a potential change of leadership. Even if the independents were to indicate they supported a late change in leadership - and at least one has always insisted that his arrangement is with the present Prime Minister and not the alternative - then there could still be an approach to the Governor-General if a move was made after Thursday week. 
There are at least three possibilities for the Governor-General. One would be to accept the decision made by the Caucus. Another would be to consider that the government no longer had a majority and ask the opposition to form government. Another would be to call for an earlier election. 
I suspect she would, at very least, have to seek the advice of the High Court. There are at least two reasons for this. One is that she would be facing an unprecedented situation that would need expert legal opinion. The other is that her son-in-law is the current Minister for Workplace Relations and she would need to be particularly careful to be seen to be acting on the independent advice of the court. 
Will there be a no-confidence motion in parliament? Probably not. The opposition will just delay as much legislation as possible - and there is an unprecedented amount to get through.  As some of that legislation is being put forward in an effort to sabotage the plans of what, if the polls are correct, will be a change of government that is probably not unreasonable. 
The next ten days may be very interesting but I have no idea what the answer to that question is. It might be that the run has been left a little late or that those looking for change are willing to provoke a constitutional "crisis". 


Philip C James said...

I'm guessing your Caucus is the equivalent of the British Conservatives' 1922 Committee. Ie all the MPs inthe party rather than the Electors.

A naive observation, no one seems to be considering what is in the best interests of the people of Australia in all this expenditure of political energy, but then who are we to expect otherwise...?

catdownunder said...

Yes - all the MPs - as for your second point, precisely!