Australia’s prime minister has told government colleagues he may call an early general election within weeks.
Malcolm Turnbull alone will decide the timing of the next election, and has maintained that he plans for his government to run a full three-year term, which would make the poll 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.
Mr Turnbull said he could call a double dissolution election, so-called because both the House of Representatives and the Senate are dissolved.He 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.
“He said a double dissolution was a live option, which would have to be weighed up.”
An ordinary election, in which the entire House of Representatives and half the Senate go to the polls, can be held any time from 6 August until 14 January 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 organisations, meaning Mr Turnbull could call an election as early as 12 March. Early elections are rare and unpopular with voters. The last double dissolution election was in 1987.
Mr Turnbull 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 Mr Turnbull the option of fighting an early election on the need to stamp out what a government commission has said is trade union corruption in the construction industry.
But since Mr Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott in September, the ruling centre-right coalition has overtaken the centre-left opposition Labour Party in opinion polls.