Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull says the senate’s rejection of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) legislation will lead to a double dissolution election, sparking a 74-day unofficial election campaign, starting today.
The PM said he will ask the governor-general to call the election after the May 3 budget, and while he did not confirm a July 2 poll, he “expects” that will be the date.
Last night the senate rejected the Turnbull government’s plan to reintroduce the ABCC, giving the prime minister the double dissolution trigger he threatened if the bill was not passed.
“My intention is after the Budget, 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 2 July,” the prime minister said at a media conference today.
Turnbull said the double dissolution, which means all 76 senators will now have their terms ended prematurely to face re-election, “is about giving the people their say”.
“When we win the election as I believe we will, we will return and the reforms to registered organisations and the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission will be made law,” Turnbull said.
Turnbull’s move to the polls comes as the government is evenly poised in the polls with Bill Shorten and the Labor opposition.
The ALP is attempting to paint Turnbull, a former banker, as sticking up for the big end of town, despite a series of scandals involving Australia’s big banks, and is pressing for a royal commission into the banking system.
While the call has popular appeal among voters, the government is resisting Labor’s push, saying it will strengthen ASIC’s powers instead to deal with any problems in the financial system.
While Turnbull hopes a spill of all the Senate seats will help clear the decks for the government, which believed that a number of cross-benchers, including Queensland’s Glenn Lazarus and Tasmania’s Jacqui Lambie, were obstructing their policy reforms, there is also a danger that independents could gain additional senate seats, because a double dissolution lowers the bar for getting elected, with the quota effectively halved from 14% to 7%.
The danger for the government is that despite changing the law last month to stop the kind of preference deals between micro-parties that saw the likes of Motoring Enthusiasts Party senator Ricky Muir from Victoria elected on less than 1% of the primary vote, a number of high profile independent senators could increase their power in the upper house.
Among them is the popular South Australian anti-pokies senator Nick Xenophon, who received nearly 25% of the vote at the 2013 election. If that result is repeated in July, his party could end up with three senate seats.
Other independents such as Lazarus, a former footballer originally elected, along with Lambie, as part of the Palmer United Party, have developed considerable profiles during their brief time in the senate and the lower quota increases their chances of being re-elected.
The challenge for Turnbull now is to not only get his government re-elected, but also to convince voters to give the Coalition control of the senate at a time when the electorate seems increasingly wary of the major parties and their leaders.