Following my blog from yesterday on the Prime Minister’s announcement of an election on 14 September we find that Craig Thomson MP has been arrested and now bailed for 150 fraud offences. While Thomson is entitled to a presumption of innocence (and is claiming innocence), I can’t imagine the Police arresting a Federal MP without overwhelming evidence.
Today’s events do make yesterday’s announcement by the Prime Minister seem curious. Did she know that Thomson was about to be arrested? If so, why?
The two main explanations for the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday of a 14 September election date are:
- to prevent a by-election being held should a sitting MP resign between now and the election
- to prompt Tony Abbott to release more policies and trap him by using the resources of government to analyse and attack those policies.
On the first, I do not find it persuasive. If on 14 September 2010 (when she was re-sworn as Prime Minister following the 2010 election), she had announced the next election to be 14 September 2013, it would have the same effect. Had she done so, no one would be saying that no by-election could be held since the election date was known. While there are no formal guidelines (the Speaker is the responsible officer), the then Speaker said in 1946
The guiding principle in fixing the date of a by-election has always been to hold the election as early as possible so that the electors are not left without representation any longer than is necessary (House of Representatives Practice).
If a vacancy occurred in the next few weeks, it would be a stretch for the Speaker to deny the relevant voters a representative for over 7 months.
On the second, Tony Abbott should make clear that the election campaign does not commence until the Government is in caretaker mode. By convention this commences when writs are issued by the Governor General dissolving the House of Representatives and setting an election. But these are only conventions – the Prime Minister could declare that the caretaker period commences today. Thus Tony Abbott should declare that he will not be bullied by the Prime Minister – if she wants the election campaign to start, she should move the government to caretaker mode. After all, election campaigns in other countries (and in Australian states with fixed dates) do not formally commence when the previous election has been declared.
Craig Thomson should immediately resign from Parliament – it is untenable that an MP charged with 150 counts of fraud should remain in parliament. He has a presumption of innocence when he goes to trial, of course, but there is no such presumption for remaining as an MP. As Slipper is also charged with fraud, he too should resign. After all, why should their constituents have to bear the cost of MPs who are focused on defending themselves in Court rather than focused on the business of representing their constituents?
The AEC website only gives information about by-elections to 1981. The closest by-election to a general election since 1981 was on 14 July 2001 which was 119 days short of the general election of 10 November 2001. That’s 17 weeks. For a 14 September 2013 election, that would be 18 May 2013.