SECTION 44 of the Australian Constitution has already claimed five federal MPs with a sixth now in the firing line. And with a number of Coalition MPs becoming increasingly nervous, there is a chance the next victim will be the government.
Reports on Wednesday said the government was now considering an early election as the best way to tackle the crisis.
With Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce already out of the parliament awaiting a by-election in New England and the possibility that Bennelong MP John Alexander could be following him, the government faces the very real prospect of losing its majority in the lower house.
A snap poll, and a thorough vetting of all candidates’ residency status beforehand, could be an effective circuit breaker for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to refocus attention on the real job of governing.
The problem for the PM, though, (and it’s a big one) is that the government is far from a sure thing to win the election.
A long run of opinion polls has had the government trailing the opposition on a two-party preferred basis, though Mr Turnbull’s personal approval rating is faring better against his opponent Bill Shorten. But the timing of a decision to go to an early election – if there is one – could be telling.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics will next week hand down the results of a postal plebiscite on the issue of same-sex marriage.
We know already that about 80 per cent of Australians returned their survey – an incredible result given it was an optional poll – and we expect the final result to show strong support for same-sex marriage.
That’s certainly the result Mr Turnbull was hoping for, but this is not the way most of his supporters wanted to get there.
If an early election is called with the result of the postal plebiscite still fresh in people’s minds, then it would not be a surprise to see Mr Turnbull try to leverage votes from the issue during an election campaign.
It might be a cynical move, but it could yet be Mr Turnbull’s last chance to paint himself as the leader that finally delivered marriage equality. And, if the polls are right, the Coalition will need to rely on every tactic it can find to keep Mr Shorten out of The Lodge.
It would be a gamble, but there are no sure bets for Mr Turnbull right now. And it would be far better for him to go down fighting for an issue he believes in strongly than one foisted on him by the conservative right of his party.