SYDNEY – Australia’s prime minister said on Tuesday he expects to call a rare early election, with the nation likely to head to the polls in July amid waning popularity for the ruling conservative party.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s comments all but confirmed that Australia was on track to hold its first early election — called a “double dissolution” because both the House of Representatives and the Senate are dissolved — since 1987.
Turnbull, whose administration is scheduled to deliver its first annual budget to Parliament on May 3, has until May 11 to officially announce an early election. He had previously said he would call for a double dissolution if the Senate failed to pass government legislation that would create a construction industry watchdog. The Senate rejected the bill for the second time on Monday, providing the trigger Turnbull had been waiting for.
“My intention is after the budget, at an appropriate time after the budget has been delivered, I will be asking the governor-general to dissolve both houses of the parliament for an election which I expect to be held on the second of July,” Turnbull told reporters.
A typical 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, 2017. A double dissolution can be called earlier to break a legislative deadlock after the Senate has twice rejected a bill passed by the House.
Turnbull’s move comes shortly after an opinion poll showed the government trailing the opposition party for the first time since he took over as leader last year. The Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper earlier this month found that support for Turnbull’s conservative coalition was behind the centre-left Labor Party 49 per cent to 51.
The poll was a blow to the ruling party’s confidence as it prepares to campaign for a second three-year term in office. The coalition was lagging behind Labor in opinion polls for more than a year until Turnbull replaced the unpopular Tony Abbott as prime minister in September in a bid to boost the party’s ratings.
The government did see an immediate boost in popularity under Turnbull, but the recent Newspoll shows his honeymoon with voters may be ending.