CANBERRA – On March 21, the Australian Prime Minister’s office sent an e-mail at 10.17am to parliamentarians informing them of a press conference to be held just 13 minutes later at 10.30am.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is threatened a rare double dissolution if two bills are not passed in parliament. Bills regarding the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), which was axed in 2007, and a separate bill regarding the governance of construction unions. This double dissolution would call elections to both the upper and lower houses of the Australian parliament – the Senate and the House of Representatives, respectively.
Turnbull has called these bills critical for the economy, but faces opposition in both houses of parliament where they have been called unfair. An opposition controlled senate has already rejected and reviewed the ABCC bill several times.
He informed the press that parliament will be recalled and that the budget will be brought forward to May 3, rather than its original date of May 10, allowing the government to pass its budget before heading into a possible eight-week election campaign. Just an hour before the press conference the treasurer, Scott Morrison, said in a radio interview that the budget would be held on May 10. “I can’t be clearer than that,” he said.
Labour leader Bill Shorten said the confusion around the budget date is a “no better demonstration of the chaos at the heart of this dysfunctional and divided Government” and that Prime Minister Turnbull had “put his own future ahead of Australia’s future”. Shorten added that Turnbull was in “full panic mode”
Australian stocks have fallen in response to the parliamentary recall which sets the stage for an early election. On March 21, the day of Turnbull’s press conference, the ASX200 closed 0.3% lower at 5,166.57. The index continues to fall, on the morning of March 24, the index fell by a further 1.13% ending the trading day at 5,084.02.
Asian stocks continue to trade normally despite the political uncertainty in Australia. New Zealand’s NZX 50 rose 0.3% to 6,641.94, while South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.12% to 1,989.76. There was no immediate market response from Japan as it was a public holiday. However, on March 22, the Nikkei 225 rose by nearly 300 points to 16,937.31 at 9 AM, rising to 17,057.48 by 9:30.
However, when you look at market response, it seems there hasn’t really been a significant jitter outside of Australia itself. Market falls arise out of uncertainty, and what is certain is that Turnbull would win a July election. Labour comfortably led the Liberal coalition until September last year, when Tony Abbott was ousted as Prime Minister and replaced by Turnbull. The most recent poll held on March 21 has the Liberal coalition 4% ahead of their Labor rivals in a two-party-preferred scenario; and the Liberals lead Labor 46.6% to 34.4% in first choice voting.
“The time for playing games is over,” Turnbull said.