Caretaker mode

So I wrote at The Conversation:

But we do now have an additional consideration. The date of the election is known, but the government is not in caretaker mode. Given the expectation that the government will lose the coming election, should it be in caretaker mode? Reasonable people can disagree on this point. After all, having the government in caretaker mode for eight months is a bit too long. Yet can the business community — and anyone else — be confident that announced policy will be implemented? I suspect not.

One of my twitter-trolls thought that was hilariously silly – and I’m sure he wasn’t alone. But that issue has arisen:

Coalition finance spokesman Andrew Robb and climate spokesman Greg Hunt wrote to the [Clean Energy Finance Corporation's] directors yesterday to tell them the election announcement meant they should avoid signing contracts to release the funds.

The twitterati are in an uproar. But Antony Green points us to the Cabinet Handbook and caretaker convention documentation:

Paragraph 2 then sets out when the Caretaker period is to apply for (my emphasis added):

The caretaker conventions operate from the dissolution of the House of Representatives until the election result is clear or, in the event of a change of government, until the new government is appointed. However, it is also accepted that some care should be exercised in the period between the announcement of the election and the dissolution. There is no caretaker period for separate half Senate elections.

So what happens when a Prime Minister does what Julia Gillard did last week in announcing an election more than six months before the dissolution of Parliament? What is meant by “some care should be exercised in the period between the announcement of the election and the dissolution”?

Indeed – what does it all mean?

In the first instance it means that business does not and cannot have the certainty that Gillard claimed it would have – another broken promise.

What about the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC)? This is what the Coalition say:

Mr Robb and Mr Hunt warned the CEFC directors against spending the cash now that the election had been set. “In light of the now very public timeframe for the upcoming election, we request that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation desist from entering into contracts or releasing any funds prior to September 14,” they wrote.

“The Coalition considers that any funds committed or agreements reached after 1 July will be during what will effectively be a caretaker period and as such we will neither allocate funds nor accept any agreements struck in the event that the Coalition forms the next federal government.”

That translates into ‘the Parliament will not appropriate funding’ to the CEFC. That places the CEFC in the same situation as any private organisation that is told by its financiers that funding will be cut off. It will be a very brave organisation that contracts with the CEFC after July 1. It will be an even braver CEFC director that signs any contracts after July 1. The CEFC has been effectively defunded.

Ironically the Coalition have provided some increased certainty in this one area – contract with the CEFC at your peril.

It is only Gillard’s mistake in the early election announcement that allows this Coalition tactic any legitimacy. As it is many people will be outraged but, as I said before, reasonable people can disagree on this point.

At the same time I find this Coalition tactic heartening. There is a hard edged ruthlessness to it – something I had thought the Coalition lacked.

Update: There is going to be a lot of discussion about this issue. Here are The Greens weighing in:

THE Australian Greens have vowed to oppose a coalition attempt to freeze the $10 billion in a government climate change fund ahead of the September election.

The Greens would not allow a coalition government to repeal legislation setting up the fund, Senator Milne said.

This is going to be interesting to watch. As I understand the media reports the Coalition aren’t talking about repealing the legislation. They are talking about not funding the CEFC. The procedure around appropriations and spending is explained by Anthony Albanese in this excellent speech to the Parliament.

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64 Responses to Caretaker mode

  1. stackja

    ‘hard edged ruthlessness’

    is allowed now the wheels have fallen off the ALP wagon.

  2. C.L.

    The issues and the money here are so huge that I wonder if this will end up in the High Court.

  3. Rabz

    The CEFC has been effectively defunded.

    Great news. The greenies will not be happy.

    At the same time I find this Coalition tactic heartening. There is a hard edged ruthlessness to it – something I had thought the Coalition lacked.

    Abbott has also clearly stated in the past that organisations should not engage in carbon trading/purchasing carbon credits (or whatever the utterly absurd concept is being referred to as this week) as the Coalition were going to abolish the air tax.

    I just wish they would be as unequivocal about matters such as abolishing section 18c of the RDA and the winding back/abolition of the masses of red and green tape we’re cursed with – as well as a few other matters I couldn’t be bothered listing here…

  4. .

    That translates into ‘the Parliament will not appropriate funding’ to the CEFC. That places the CEFC in the same situation as any private organisation that is told by its financiers that funding will be cut off. It will be a very brave organisation that contracts with the CEFC after July 1. It will be an even braver CEFC director that signs any contracts after July 1. The CEFC has been effectively defunded.

    Well played…

    Now only if Australian citizens, firms etc engaged in civil disobedience and refused to make periodic tax payments, withholdings or refused to lodge tax returns where they owned the ATO money.

    Starve the beast.

    Remember Wat Tyler.

  5. Rabz

    Given the expectation that the government will lose the coming election, should it be in caretaker mode?

    And deny the Goose his opportunity to deliver a final triumphant budget?

  6. Now only if Australian citizens, firms etc engaged in civil disobedience and refused to make periodic tax payments, withholdings or refused to lodge tax returns where they owned the ATO money.

    I want to know if anyone’s ever tried applying the well known fact that the ATO is not a legal entity:

    http://www.australiamatters.com/cms/?p=125

    To get out of paying tax. Probably won’t work mind you

  7. .

    I’m not actually suggesting that, Plato.

    I’m suggesting that citizens legally (including riding the rules to the edge) withdraw funding from this shambles of a Government.

    For example: you actually have a year and a day to lodge your income tax return.

    If everyone who owed the ATO withheld their debt for this period – or until Gillard was disposed, it would limit the damage and give a practical loss of confidence in her.

    After all, Kevin Rudd illegally raised revenue without requisite legislation.

    We should have started tax resistance after she implemented the carbon tax she lied about and kevin’s illegal tax.

  8. Borisgodunov

    To thwart the greens Threat about this totally useless department ,the Libs can cut funding to this crewof bludgers to $100. a year ,reduce all employees several grades and re assign them to lower jobs ,hopefully they will resign.

  9. 3d1k

    “7.5.2 The Guidelines are distinct from the caretaker conventions and commence on a different date. They apply as soon as an election for the House of Representatives is announced or three months before the expiry of the House of Representatives, whichever occurs first.

    (i) The pre-election period is to date from three months prior to the expiry of the House of Representatives or the date of announcement of the House of Representatives election, whichever date comes first. It does not apply in respect of Senate elections only.”

    Guidance on Caretaker Conventions

  10. Mark

    So to summarise;

    Labor/Greens – “You are not taking away our $10 billion bribe fund”

  11. Louis Hissink

    The Greens would not allow a coalition government to repeal legislation setting up the fund, Senator Milne said.

    Obviously Senator Milne doesn’t like democracy – and the mind blowing arrogance of the lady.

  12. .

    Eat shit, Senator Milne, AbbotAbbotAbbot might just have a Senate majority too.

  13. “Now only if Australian citizens, firms etc engaged in civil disobedience and refused to make periodic tax payments, withholdings or refused to lodge tax returns where they owned the ATO money.”

    You almost made me sad i’m getting a tax return this year. Actually, naaaah.

  14. “The Greens would not allow a coalition government to repeal legislation setting up the fund, Senator Milne said.”

    Hahahahaha! What are they gunna do, chain themselves to a tree? Keep giving reasons for a double dissolution, Christine. Go on, I dare you.

  15. Token

    Hahahahaha! What are they gunna do, chain themselves to a tree? Keep giving reasons for a double dissolution, Christine. Go on, I dare you.

    I think something should be done about the Canberra Stenographers pack, it is mysogynist how they manage to report her words verbatum and make her look like an out of touch crazy cat lady.

    They never reported Bob Brown’s words verbatum and thus he could keep up the illusion that he was a mostly harmless kindly sort to the deluded masses.

    Its mysogyny I tells ya…

  16. Lloyd

    Slightly off topic but I agree with Henry Ergas here

  17. Gab

    THE captain having announced that she intends to land the plane, the crew don their parachutes and rush for the emergency exits. As far as votes of confidence go, it is a corker.

    Political suicide is a skill, like everything else; Julia Gillard seems intent on raising it to an art.

    That’s a fine introduction. You know, to look at Henry you’d think butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

    Okay, back to topic.

  18. James of the Glens

    Fantastic news!

    The Clean Energy Council is a front for the highly destructive wind turbine scam that has already wreaked much havoc on the economic, environmental, public health and social fabric of Australia.

    Mr Hunt has just risen a quantum step in my estimation.

  19. Woolfe

    I think there are 18 ALP Senators and 4 Greens up for re election this year.

    Would it be feasible for the coalition to get a majority in this election?

  20. Would it be feasible for the coalition to get a majority in this election?

    Possible, but unlikely unless the numbers move considerably further apart. 2 or 3 state senate votes have to exceed 57% for that to happen.

    It’s possible now in WA. National swing has to move a bit further to the Coalition for it to happen elsewhere. I’d say if we start seeing polls in the order of 60/40, that’s when to look for a senate majority.

  21. .

    Depends on preferences too.

    Seeing the coalition are the “star”, smaller parties are more willing to negotiate with them, I presume.

  22. Woolfe

    Cheers DF! So DD election 2014?

  23. Matt

    Gillard and the ALP want to have their cake and eat it too.

    The ALP want to use the informal conventions and traditions around the election period firstly to avoid any potential by-elections and secondly to pressure the Opposition to release policies and costings much earlier than would normally be the case.

    Given this, it is surely reasonable for the Opposition to consider that the setting of an election date triggers some sort of “caretaker convention” even if only in a moral sense and to expect that government advertising be considered on a bipartisan basis.

    (BTW – didn’t the ALP promise to stop government advertising unless there was an emergency? What happened to that?)

  24. C.L.

    Mendacious dickhead, Mark Dreyfus, weighs in – ABC gives him macho headline:

    New Attorney-General Dreyfus swats away caretaker claims.

    Chaos? Is somebody causing chaos?

    Who, pray tell?

    The Government has accused the Coalition of trying to cause chaos by declaring that the election caretaker provisions have effectively begun, despite clear advice to the contrary from senior bureaucrats

    “What you’re seeing here… is just another attempt to disregard long-standing parliamentary conventions,” he told reporters in Canberra.

    “Why should a Government stop just because Julie Bishop says so?

    “It’s an attempt to cause chaos. It’s the same strategy that we’ve been seeing from the Liberal party since September 2010.”

  25. brc

    The Greens would not allow a coalition government to repeal legislation setting up the fund, Senator Milne said.

    Roll on September 15, when the motley crew of Greens senators is not only diminished, it’s also a crew of toothless tigers.

    The new labor opposition will dump all policies related to the carbon tax and all the associated paraphernalia. If anyone doubts this, I present how quickly Workchoices was abandoned post 2007.

    In the same way the coalition did not attempt to block the removal of workchoices, I don’t expect the decimated labor ranks to fight against removal of the remnants of the green marriage.

    The joy of watching Milne become a harping, powerless, unliked and ignored sideshow will truly brighten many days for a long time.

  26. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Remember Wat Tyler.

    Watt played his cards very badly, Dot.

    Is this what you mean?

  27. Keith

    “The Coalition considers that any funds committed or agreements reached after 1 July will be during what will effectively be a caretaker period and as such we will neither allocate funds nor accept any agreements struck in the event that the Coalition forms the next federal government.”

    Why can’t this apply more widely to every statutory authority and government department, particularly in relation to contracting, and ministerial appointments?

  28. .

    Watt played his cards very badly, Dot.

    Is this what you mean?

    I don’t think he did. He had insurmountable odds to begin with. We don’t.

  29. Cato the Elder

    Gillard and the ALP want to have their cake and eat it too.

    Yep. They really haven’t grown up past the tricky/sneaky student politics stage. That kind of trickiness won’t pass the sniff test with the voters, so it won’t work in the real world.

    Now they look like hypocrites (again) and sound whiney (again) because the Coalition has pointed out that the sword has two edges and cuts both ways. This was only going to work if the Coalition didn’t call them out on it; and what (realistically) were the chances of that?

    The whole “strategy” (and I use scare quotes with deliberate intent) has blown up within a week. There is now zero pressure on the Opposition to put up detailed policy costings; and at the same time the Government looks both tricky and stupid.

    Well played, that woman!

  30. Rabz

    BTW – didn’t the ALP promise to stop government advertising unless there was an emergency? What happened to that?

    Already been done – in 2010 rudd unilaterally declared a national emergency and went ahead with advertising selling the magnificent wondrousness of the mining super dooper profits tax.

  31. Cato the Elder

    I don’t think he did. He had insurmountable odds to begin with.

    Going alone and unarmed to a meeting with armed opponents who did not regard themselves as bound by the flag of truce (because he was regarded as lower class scum and a rebel) was a big (and fatal) mistake.

  32. brc

    The 7 months campaign raised many more questions than it answered.

    Ultimately the general public is not enamoured of elections. To call a drawn-out one in the hope of hiding behind some rules has not travelled well, as the 2PP has shown.

    Even if the CEFC forges ahead, you’d have to be a monumnetally stupid (or corrupt) executive to sign a contract with them, given the clear signalling that it won’t go ahead. So unless they can get the funds out between Feb and July, they’re stuffed.

    Can you imagine the scenes in Green HQ right now?
    ‘It’s ok, we’ll get Steiner to head them off’
    ‘Steiner….Steiner’
    ‘Steiner has stopped outside Berlin and has no
    ‘That was a direct order! (throws pencil)’

  33. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    That intro to the Ergas piece is well-rounded by the piece’s conclusion too Gab:

    As for Gillard, if she wants the advantages of being in a campaign, she should also bear the costs.

    Let her give up the benefits of taxpayer-funded advertising, as Labor promised in 2007; and let her provide the detailed budget projections the government is sitting on.

    Unless she does, she runs the risk of her tactics seeming like mere antics.

    And of her cunning scheme becoming yet another case of poor judgment raised to a form of art.

    The middle of it isn’t half bad either.

    I think it’s all ‘on thread’ because it all relates to the parameters of ‘caretaking’.

  34. Gab

    I agree, Lizzie an excellent read.

    Henry Ergas – the haloed assassin.

  35. C.L.

    Will she ‘cry’ today about the fires and floods?

  36. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.

    Dot, Wat put his trust in Kings and forgot to bargain with his pickaxe on the bit about Adam delving while others bludged around rent-seeking. He asked for too little and was too timid in the asking and too impressed by the big show. But then again, who are we to judge a peasant in his time?

    At least he started something and his name is still recalled when taxation resistance is thought of, as you show.

    Plus ca change. Like Watt we have odds to surmount regarding ideological pressures coming from the state. They may not be insurmountable but they are strong, and there. So I guess Watt is worth mentioning here still.

  37. Tapdog

    Over at BOLT is an interesting chat about the ABC and the Election Period.

    It appears the ABC regards the “Election Period” thus

    While the ABC maintains due impartiality and balance in its coverage of politics throughout the year, the formal campaign begins in August when the writs are issued. That is when we will begin monitoring and recording “share of voice” and determining free time for the relevant parties.

    But the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 puts it differently

    “election period” means:

    (a) in relation to an election to the Legislative Council of Tasmania, or an ordinary election to the Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory–the period that starts 33 days before the polling day for the election and ends at the close of the poll on that day; and

    (b) in relation to any other election to a Parliament–the period that starts on:

    (i) the day on which the proposed polling day for the election is publicly announced; or

    (ii) the day on which the writs for the election are issued;

    whichever happens first, and ends at the close of the poll on the polling day for the election;

  38. J.H.

    Defunding the Green madness. Obliterating the Ecofascist regulation….. Re-empowering the Australian Taxpayer and putting them in control of Government spending, at least in spirit if not actually. Where budgets must balance, spending is transparent and value must be gained for the taxpayer money spent. Rather than being mere slaves to the political ambitions of a parasitical class of psychopaths…..

    God. Do we dare even hope?

  39. Grey

    The twitterati are in an uproar.

    Not being a member of the twitterati but my understanding is that deep existential crises like broken fingernails or burnt toast is sufficient to send the twitterati into uproar.

    However, let me clarify the issue for muddled minds of Catallaxy.
    Julia Gillard has not called an election, she has announced an intention to call an election. She will call an election on August 14 when she calls on Bill Shorten’s mother in law for tea and writs.
    Taken to the [il]logical conclusion one would assume that State Governments are always in caretaker mode.

  40. candy

    To the public it’s the same thing, calling an election or announcing the intention to call an election, it’s all the same, election on 14 September.

  41. candy

    At least we get to see more of Tony Abbott’s handsomeness and fit bod, so there’s that …

  42. Token

    However, let me clarify the issue for muddled minds of Catallaxy.

    Wow, after your stupid comment about how Swarmy McLefty (Littlemore) ended up representing Obeid, if you had any self awareness you’d scurry away for a while and stop proving how little you know.

  43. squawkbox

    Hate to say it, but Grey’s correct. So far, this is just another Gillard promise.

    Mind you, I think the election will be on 14th September. Then Gillard will be able to mention one promise she’s kept.

  44. candy

    To change the date of the election would be just insane, Ms Gillard would lose all credibility.

  45. Grey

    Wow, after your stupid comment about how Swarmy McLefty (Littlemore) ended up representing Obeid, if you had any self awareness you’d scurry away for a while and stop proving how little you know.

    I was so tuckered out after writing that comment I went and took a little nap. Turned out badly did it? Oh well, its only the internet.

  46. Grey

    To change the date of the election would be just insane, Ms Gillard would lose all credibility.

    She might not be there. She might be in the dock in Melbourne saying “I did nothing wrong, your Honour, besides I was young and naive.”

    Its ok to dream…

  47. Skuter

    Julia Gillard has not called an election, she has announced an intention to call an election. She will call an election on August 14 when she calls on Bill Shorten’s mother in law for tea and writs.

    Grey, for once in my life, I agree with you. You are correct. There is nothing that formally commits the government to an election on September 14. That implies a couple of things. 1. Abbott is not under any pressure to release anything; and 2. if any member resigns before mid year, then it is undemocratic to delay a by-election.

  48. Sirocco

    Why do you think Gillard cam hold out to 14 September? The polls have been bad for over two years. There is little prospect of improvement in the short term, and to ask govt members to stifle their rising panic for another couple of months will be beyond most of them. I think a challenge soon after Easter will eventuate – but if Gillard gets the whiff of a smell of a challenge she will be off to see Short Willy’s mother in law. So a May election.

  49. Skuter

    To change the date of the election would be just insane, Ms Gillard would lose all credibility.

    It would only be insane if Gillard is still ALP leader then. You cannot discount the possibilities that she will be knifed soon nor that she is in fact crazy.
    As for credibility, she has none. She lost any trace of credibility ages ago.

  50. Grey

    I recommend everyone reads the PM’s excellent speech to the Press Club
    http://www.pm.gov.au/press-office/address-national-press-club

    So I today announce that later this year, I will advise the Governor-General to dissolve the House of Representatives with writs to be issued on Monday the 12th of August for an election for the House and half of the Senate, to be held on Saturday the 14th of September.

    When she advises the GG will be when she calls the election.

  51. ugh

    “To change the date of the election would be just insane, Ms Gillard would lose all credibility.”

    @candy – Ms Gillard has credibility left???

    Still think Sept 14 is the most likely date as its the last day she can have an election and still retain half of the existing senate (yet another gift to the greens)

  52. ugh

    “When she advises the GG will be when she calls the election.”

    Yes, but the caretaker provisions refer to it commencing when the election date is publicly announced.

    Usually the public announcement is made *after* the PM has been to the GG so there is zero doubt.

    Some call it bold, looks more to me like she just shot herself in both feet…

  53. candy

    As far as the voting public go, the eletion is “called”.

    would have to be truly exceptional circumstances to change it.

  54. Grey

    Usually the public announcement is made *after* the PM has been to the GG so there is zero doubt.

    But the PM does not have the power to announce an election, she only has the power to ask the Governor General to announce an election date.

    She has told us when (roughly) she intends to ask the GG to announce the date and the date she wishes to be announced. But that has no legal standing. Only once she has the agreement of the Governor General can she announce an election date.

  55. candy

    “roughly”

    No, Grey, not “roughly”, I must disagree.

    It’s all over every media everywhere – Sept 14 it is. The GG always agrees with the PM, it’s a done deal.

  56. candy

    never mind, she’s a goner anyway …

  57. Cato the Elder

    But the PM does not have the power to announce an election, she only has the power to ask the Governor General to announce an election date.

    Nope. Nice try but no cigar.

    The GG issues the writ and the PM makes the announcement. Only custom dictates that the announcement is made after the writ is issued. Gillard (as usual) isn’t bothered by silly old custom if she perceives an advantage.

    The problem she has is that the authors of the legislation (employed by the sheltered workshop AKA Parliamentary Counsel) wrote the law on the basis of the custom. Silly them. Or silly Gillard. Whatever. So that leaves us with:

    the day on which the proposed polling day for the election is publicly announced

  58. Cato the Elder

    But that’s OK, the grubbermint and the ALPBC have enough dust and chaff to throw up into the air and say it’s not really an announcement, it’s an . . . uh . . . . thingo, thingy, whatchamacallit and so we can do what we want so there !

    The beauty is that they look like dills, whether or not they are right :D

  59. .

    If she isn’t PM, the new PM has a right to ask for another date to dissolve Parliament and have an election.

  60. For example: you actually have a year and a day to lodge your income tax return.

    Dot forget about the thread tell us more about this, so long as no penalties are incurred I want to know.

  61. Nah, the condition is the announcement of the proposed date. That’s done.

  62. .

    Kelly

    But you must have a registered tax agent do it for you if it is past the normal deadline.

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