CANBERRA – Australia’s prime minister told government colleagues Tuesday that an early general election within weeks was “a live option,” an official said.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull alone decides the timing of the next election. He has maintained that he plans for his government to run a full three-year term which would make the election due around September.
But he told his colleagues at their first meeting at Parliament House for the year that the election could be called much sooner, a government minister said.
Turnbull said he could call a double dissolution election, so-called because both the House of Representatives and the Senate are dissolved.
Turnbull told his colleagues “we can reasonably expect an election to be at the normal time, in the August-to-October period, but that is not set in stone,” the minister told reporters on condition of anonymity because he was speaking as a spokesman for the meeting rather than as himself.
“He said a double dissolution was a live option, which would have to be weighed up,” the minister said.
An ordinary election in which the entire House of Representatives and half the Senate go to the polls can be held any time from Aug. 6 until Jan. 14 next year.
A double dissolution election can be called earlier to break a legislative deadlock after the Senate has twice rejected a bill passed by the House of Representatives. After the early election, the rejected bill goes to a vote in a joint sitting of both chambers.
The Senate has already twice rejected a minor bill on improving governance of organizations, meaning Turnbull could call an election as early as March 12.
He can also use the threat of an early election to pressure a hostile Senate into passing legislation, for example, a bill to create a new construction industry watchdog that the Senate has already rejected once. A second rejection would give Turnbull the option of fighting an early election on the need to stamp out what a government commission says is trade union corruption in the construction industry.
Early elections are rare in federal politics and unpopular with voters. The last double dissolution election was in 1987.
But since Turnbull replaced Prime Minister Tony Abbott in September, the ruling center-right coalition has overtaken the center-left opposition Labor Party in opinion polls.