Notwithstanding the issue of foreign citizenship facing both the Liberal and Labor parties, which could trigger an election in 2018, there is another more pressing issue looming for Malcolm Turnbull, one that he created all on his own.
It concerns the senate, the Constitution and the double dissolution Turnbull called in 2016. It may well be that 2018 turns out to be a federal election year, by necessity.
The Constitution states that after a double dissolution, there must be a half senate election no later than 30th June, three years later.
This means that those currently serving a three-year term will see their tenure expire on 30 June 2019. Allowing for a minimum of 33 days for campaigning prior to that date and finalising other necessary matters, the next half senate election must be held no later than 18th May 2019.
And herein lies the dilemma for Malcolm Turnbull. Given that he will not want a half senate election on one date and a House of Representatives election on another date in the same year, Australia will go to the polls no later than 18th May 2019 for both houses.
But will he wait that long? South Australia will go to the polls 17 March 2018. Victoria goes to the polls on 25 November 2018. The next NSW state election is scheduled for 23rd March 2019. None of these fixed dates make it any easier for Turnbull. Adding fuel to the fire, Tasmania must go to an election no later than 19th May, 2018.
There is little to no time available between Victoria going in November 2018 and New South Wales going in March 2019. Either way, at least one and possible two states will face both a federal and state election in the same year.
Running the risk of local state issues coinciding with federal issues makes for a messy campaign trail and one in which some issues could become hopelessly confusing. Turnbull and his government, will want to avoid that and provide as much breathing room as possible.
That suggests sometime in August (Sat 4th being the earliest) or early September 2018 as the least damaging, one that allows the dust to settle in South Australia in March and before Victoria votes in November, with the possibility that Tasmania will go earlier. Tasmania will also be dealing with the Jacqui Lambie factor.
The South Australian election is the most interesting, because of the popularity of Nick Xenophon and his party. If both Labor and Liberal were to lose primary votes and seats to the Xenophon party resulting in some form of coalition, a honeymoon period would still be in play by the time an August poll was held.
Either way, it could influence the result in a federal poll, although not as seriously as one held too close to either NSW or Victoria. Current polling suggests the government will be struggling to survive either way and the timing of an election will be crucial to their chances.
Keen election watchers will be looking for the signs. If the Coalition begin offering big incentives to South Australia early in the new year, it could point to an August election nationally. Apart from the pork-barrelling, it’s all in the language and the activity in key seats. We should also be watching for signs from the mainstream media, particularly the Murdoch press.
Labor will be keenly aware of the timing and begin ramping up the pressure as well. There is a huge amount at stake for both parties as well as all four states involved, not to mention the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten.