Malcolm Turnbull has effectively confirmed the government is contemplating bringing forward the budget by a week in order to leave open the option of an early, double-dissolution election.
Asked whether he was considering bringing it forward from the scheduled date of May 10, Mr Turnbull said only that “the budget will be delivered in May”.
The Prime Minister was in Adelaide making a defence announcement and trying to shore up seats that were under threat during Tony Abbott’s tenure.
On Tuesday, The Australian Financial Review reported that the government was giving active consideration to a May 3 budget.
This is because a double dissolution must be called no later than May 11, the day after the budget’s current scheduled date.
A May 3 budget would give it a handful of parliamentary sitting days before May 11 to pass the supply bills and make one last attempt to have the Senate debate the bill to reinstate the powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
The bill has already been blocked once and a second refusal to either pass it or debate it means it would qualify as a double dissolution trigger.
The Senate’s deliberate tactics to delay debating the ABCC, including calling a parliamentary inquiry with a reporting date of March 15, already have the government confident it could use the ABCC as a trigger for a double dissolution under a provision known as “failure to pass”.
But the case would be strengthened, and momentum built, if the Senate either refused to debate the bill, or defeated, straight after the budget and just before an election was called.
Mr Turnbull is also keen on a double dissolution so he can wipe out the Senate crossbenchers who gamed the system and won seats with a tiny primary vote.
A deal with the Greens to reforms Senate voting will make it almost impossible for the seven crossbenchers, except perhaps Jacqui Lambie, to win back their spots.
The eighth crossbencher, Nick Xenophon won his spot in his own right and is under no threat.
Earlier Tuesday, Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer also has left open the possibility of an early budget.
“These are all matters to be considered but we are looking at the ordinary timetable in relation to the budget,” she told the ABC.
Ms O’Dwyer then appeared to suggest the timing of the budget could be shifted by an early election.
“In circumstances where there is a different election timetable, obviously there are consequences that flow from that,” she said.
Attorney-General George Brandis sparked even more speculation about an early election after he pledged to hold a plebiscite on same sex marriage before the end of the year on Sunday.
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese says if the budget was moved it would be more of an economic statement to get the government through the election.
“Then the cuts would be back straight afterwards,” he told ABC radio.
Mr Albanese said changing the date would be very difficult because Treasury and Finance have their systems locked in for the second Tuesday in May.