The caretaker period means that the Government carries
out the necessary functions to keep the country running, and the
Australian Public Service needs to protect its apolitical
The Prime Minister has foreshadowed that he will ask the
Governor-General for a double dissolution election if the
Parliament does not pass the Building and Construction Industry
Bill 2013 which seeks to reintroduce the Australian Building and
Construction Commission. What is a double dissolution, and how will
it affect the ordinary day-to-day life of the public service?
What is a double dissolution?
A double dissolution occurs where the Governor-General
simultaneously dissolves the House of Representatives and the
Senate under section 57 of the Constitution over a disagreement
between the two Houses of Parliament. A double dissolution election
can be called if the Senate twice rejects or fails to pass a law
which the House has passed.
How is a double dissolution election different from a
In a general election, the Governor-General dissolves the House
of Representatives and issues writs for the election of the House
and half of the Senate. In other words, in a general election only
half of the 76 Senate seats are decided. In a double dissolution,
all seats of the Senate are declared vacant and there is a full
Senate election instead of a half election.
When was the last double dissolution and what was it
The last double dissolution was in 1987. The trigger in this
instance was the legislation for the Australia Card. The
legislation for a national identity card was knocked back by the
Senate and the Government, led by Prime Minister Hawke, asked the
Governor-General for a double dissolution. The Hawke government was
returned but still without a majority in the Senate. The Australia
Card did not feature prominently in the election campaign and
ultimately the Government abandoned the proposal.
Does a double dissolution affect the caretaker
The fact that the 2016 election may be a double dissolution
election rather than a general election does not affect the
The idea of a caretaker Government is purely conventional. A
caretaker Government operates during the period between dissolution
of the House of Representatives and until the result of the
election is known (if the Government is returned) or when the new
Government is appointed. The role of a caretaker Government is to
carry out the necessary functions to keep the country running.
During the caretaker period, the Government usually cannot:
make major policy decisions that are likely to commit an
The caretaker period
also means that the Australian Public Service needs to protect its
apolitical nature. This includes:
ensuring that Commonwealth resources (for example, advertising)
are not expended for party political purposes;
ensuring that ministerial and agency websites are maintained so
that there is no confusion about whether the agency is promoting a
particular policy or proposal;
taking similar care with an agency's social media; and
ensuring that assistance provided to Ministers is limited to
the day-to-day business of government and does not extend to
assisting with policy development or to promote an election
How will the election affect legislative
For legislative instruments that are disallowable under the
Legislation Act 2003 (Cth), an election introduces complexities for
disallowance periods. Once the House of Representatives has been
dissolved, the 15 sitting days' period is paused until the next
sitting day. However, if a notice of motion to disallow an
instrument has been introduced in either House of Parliament, the
15 sitting days' period starts again when the Parliament next
Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide
commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon
as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular
transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin.
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