Supply Bills — a reprise
On Thursday 28 April 2016, the Finance Minister, Senator Cormann, confirmed that the Government would be introducing Supply Bills in the next meeting of the Parliament. Senator Cormann said:
These bills will ensure continuity of the normal business of government in the context of a double-dissolution election.
The need for Supply Bills arises because of the Prime Minister’s intention to request that the Governor-General dissolve both Houses of the Parliament on or before 11 May 2016, and the truncated time the Parliament will have to consider the annual Appropriation Bills for 2016‑17.
‘Supply’ is not mentioned in the Commonwealth Constitution. The first paragraph of section 83 of the Constitution, however, provides that ‘No money shall be drawn from the Treasury of the Consolidated Revenue Fund except under appropriation made by law.’ And section 54 of the Constitution establishes that there shall be at least annual Appropriation Bills that propose appropriation for ‘the ordinary annual services of government.’ Securing the passage of annual Appropriation Bills affords the government the necessary ‘supply’ of monies required to fund its core activities.
A Supply Bill generally provides for interim appropriations out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund to fund the core activities of the government until the passage of the annual Appropriation Bills. The introduction of Supply Bills was a common occurrence from Federation 1993, as the practice of the government was to deliver the Budget and table the annual Appropriation Bills after the commencement of the financial year on 1 July. From 1994, however, the Commonwealth has generally delivered the Budget and tabled the annual Appropriation Bills in May, prior to the commencement of the next financial year.
Most recent use—1996
The most recent introduction of Supply Bills into Parliament was on 8 May 1996. The need for Supply Bills arose because of the timing of the 1996 Federal Election, which resulted in a change of government in March 1996 and rendered the delivery of a Budget in May 1996 impractical. The Supply Bills comprised:
Supply Bill (No. 1) 1996-1997
Supply Bill (No. 2) 1996-1997, and
Supply (Parliamentary Departments) Bill 1996-1997.
The appropriations proposed by Supply Bill (No. 1) 1996-1997 totalled $14.7 billion. The appropriations proposed by Supply Bill (No. 2) 1996-1997 totalled $1.7 billion, including $38 million for new policy measures. The Supply (Parliamentary Departments) Bill 1996-97 proposed the appropriation of $68 million for the ongoing operations of the Parliament.
The 1996-97 Supply Bills were debated in the House of Representatives for six days between 20–29th May 1996. The first readings of the Bills in the Senate took place on 30 May 1996 and the Bills passed the Senate the following day. The Bills were given Royal Assent on 14 June 1996.
Together, the Bills proposed to appropriate 5/12ths of the annual funding required. This provided for funding until the end of November 1996, by which time it was anticipated that the annual Appropriation Bills would have come into force. Without the passage of these Supply Bills, funding for the core activities of the government would have been depleted soon after 1 July 1996.
Supply and the dissolution of the Parliament
Whether or not a Governor-General would agree to a Prime Minister’s request for a double dissolution of the Parliament without supply having been secured is uncertain.
Disregarding the events that culminated in the dismissal of the Whitlam Government on 11 November 1975—where Governor-General Kerr dissolved the Parliament otherwise than on the advice of his Prime Minster—there is no example of a Governor-General accepting a recommendation to dissolve the House of Representatives and hold an election (double dissolution or otherwise) without the government first having secured from the Parliament sufficient supply to fund its ongoing activities. And there are only a few instances of a similar situation arising elsewhere.
For example, in 1872 the New Zealand Governor Sir George Bowen refused a request to dissolve the New Zealand House of Representatives from Premier (as the position was known then) Edward Stafford. The reasons for refusing the dissolution were manifold, but included that there was no supply available to ensure the ongoing operations of the public service. Governor Bowen asserted that he could not consider a request for a dissolution unless supply had been ensured for a period of three months. (Arthur Keith, Responsible Government in the Dominions, Volume 1, p. 187).
The 1877, Tasmanian Governor Frederick Weld was asked to dissolve the Fysh ministry, but declined. While a lack of supply was not an issue in that decision, in a memorandum by Governor Weld to Premier Fysh, subsequently tabled in the Tasmanian Assembly, Weld asserted that he, as Governor:
had no right to suppose that the parliament would depart from the usual and most constitutional course of voting the necessary supplies for the period that must elapse before the meeting of the new parliament.
Further, Governor Weld asserted the principle that:
nothing but the most extreme and clear public necessity would justify the Crown in dissolving after supplies had been refused. (Alepheus Todd, Parliamentary Government in the British Colonies, p. 785)
Whether or not Governor Weld’s view represents a sound constitutional principle, however, is uncertain. H V Evatt, for example, in his The King and His Dominion Governors, appears to express some doubt over the matter (see p. 221).
In any case, it appears that the likelihood of the forthcoming Supply Bills not being passed by the Parliament is remote. For example, in a recent debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2015-2016 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2015-2016, Senator Dastyari stated:
The Labor Party has a principled position about not blocking supply, a principled position we intend to maintain… The principle behind this is that we will treat it as supply and, as such, it will be supported.
Nonetheless, it would appear that whether—and when—the Government is able to secure supply could have a bearing on the timing of the intended dissolution of the Houses of the Parliament.