April 18: Double dissolution D-Day?

Next Monday brings the moment of truth for Parliament as it contemplates the possibility of a 2 July Double Dissolution election. So how did we get to this point, and how might things unfold from 18 April?

As announced by Prime Minister Turnbull on 21 March, Parliament will be recalled from next Monday, 18 April, to give it the opportunity to pass the Government’s ABCC Bill and Registered Organisations Bill.

If the Bills are not passed, the Government has announced that a double dissolution election will be held on 2 July 2015, with the Bills becoming a trigger.

The Government has also announced that the Budget will be brought forward to 3 May to allow time for the supply Bills to be passed before the 11 May deadline for the calling of a double dissolution election.

If the Government is returned after a double dissolution election, the Bills that were the trigger for the election are put to a joint sitting of both houses of Parliament.

In a double dissolution election, all Senators will be up for election, including the eight Crossbenchers. Given the recent passage of Senate voting reforms, it is likely that most of the Crossbenchers would lose their seats.

If a double dissolution election is not held, however, only one (Senator Madigan) of the Crossbench Senators will be up for election. The remaining seven Crossbench Senators would retain their seats until the following election.

The Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013 (ABCC Bill) deals with the following key issues:

  • Re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) with its former powers (including compulsory interrogation powers);
  • Higher penalties for unlawful industrial action (roughly three times the level that applies in other industries);
  • The legislation provides for the making of a Building Code which all building industry participants would be required to comply with; and
  • Penalties for unlawful picketing.

The Bill has been the subject of three Senate inquiries during this term of Government, all of which Ai Group has been heavily involved in. The Bill has been rejected once by Parliament. The Bill has been reintroduced but has not yet been voted upon for the second time by the Senate.

The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill (Registered Organisations Bill) would amend the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 to:

  • establish a Registered Organisations Commission;
  • clarify and expand the duties of union officers;
  • increase penalties and disclosure obligations; and
  • provide for the disqualification of union officers who breach their duties.

The Bill has been the subject of two Senate inquiries during this term of Government and a number of amendments were made to the Bill to address technical issues raised by Ai Group. Ai Group supports the Bill, with these amendments.

The Bill has been rejected twice by Parliament and is already a double dissolution trigger.

An interesting week lies ahead.

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Ai Group's Head of National Workplace Relations Policy, Stephen Smith is responsible for workplace relations policy development and advocacy. He regularly represents industry’s views to governments and opposition parties, and in numerous inquiries and major cases. He is Special Counsel for, and Chairman of the Board of, Ai Group Workplace Lawyers, a national law firm operated by Ai Group.

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