With the citizenship saga continuing to unfold in a manner that is exhibiting all the elements of a soap opera, i.e. farcical and treacherous, the government is facing the real danger of having a general election forced upon it, a situation reminiscent of the Whitlam dismissal of 1975.
Should it be determined that both Josh Frydenberg and Alex Hawke be required to face a bi-election at the same time as Barnaby Joyce on 2nd December, the government’s numbers in the lower house would be seriously compromised.
As matters stand, the Coalition has 76 members, Labor 69, 1 Greens and 4 independents, a total of 150. Already the government has lost one member, i.e. Barnaby Joyce. If it transpires that both Frydenberg and Hawke are ineligible, that would reduce the Coalition to 73 in a 147-member house.
That means they would require 74 votes to avoid a loss of confidence. With the support of the speaker, they would need only one of the independents to vote with them.
Depending on the circumstances of course, one might reasonably expect Cathy McGowan, the independent member for Indi, to vote with the government. She has said as much.
As matters stand, all three government members under a cloud at the moment, are in relatively safe seats. They would, most likely, be re-elected.
But what would happen if the latest citizenship revelation, i.e. John Alexander, caused a bi-election in Bennelong, a marginal seat, one that the government lost?
That would take the Coalition into minority government and while they could still govern with the support of independents, clearly their legitimacy would be seriously compromised.
As one connects the dots in this ever-widening web of intrigue, it becomes more and more apparent, that the one course of action Malcolm Turnbull should take to determine the government’s legitimacy is a federal election.
Reading various opinion pieces in the mainstream media over the past few days, one detects a general air of resignation by a number of respected writers who conclude this is the only path to take and that it is inevitable.
Furthermore, as speculation grows on the likelihood of a leadership change, there exists the possibility that the chaos within the Liberal party will undermine the stability of our democracy.
The citizenship issue has opened further the festering wounds of those who would see Malcolm Turnbull dismissed under any pretext. Installing a new PM would be likened to Nero fiddling while Rome burns.
An election subject to a disclosure regime for all candidates, as outlined by the prime minister yesterday, would wipe the slate clean. Any candidate that deliberately, or otherwise, gave false information about his/her eligibility, would face criminal proceedings.
There is no good reason for holding a referendum to change Section 44 of the constitution. It would not be successful. Nor should it be. A parliamentarian’s loyalty to the country he serves should never be open to compromise.
As much as election timing is paramount and the present time does not look healthy for the prime minister, sooner or later, the penny will drop and Turnbull and his chaotic government will have to face the cold hard truth.
To save the nation from what is more serious than the farce it appears to be, announcing a federal poll for the first Saturday in February 2018 would be the best move Malcolm Turnbull could make.