Voting reforms pave way for early Australian election

PM Turnbull likely to call double dissolution poll in bid to clear Senate of obstructionists

SYDNEY • Australia's Senate yesterday passed voting reforms after a marathon session lasting more than 28 hours, clearing the way for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to dissolve both Houses of Parliament and call an early election to end a hostile Senate.

Independent and minor party senators elected in the 2013 polls have stalled key aspects of the government's agenda, including changes that would make higher education and healthcare more expensive and limit access to welfare.

The Senate voting reforms will make it harder for smaller parties to enter Parliament through vote- sharing deals.

Mr Turnbull is now seen as likely to opt for a rare double dissolution election, in which both Houses of Parliament face the voters, arguing that it will clear the Senate of obstructionists and allow long-stalled reforms.

The debate on the voting reforms began on Thursday morning in the Senate and went well into yesterday's session as lawmakers - at least one dressed in pyjamas - employed delaying tactics aimed at breaking their opponents' will. The reforms were eventually passed.

"It's a reform which will help ensure that future Senate election results truly reflect the will of the Australian people," Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the Senate.

Mr Turnbull has consistently led opinion polls since he came to power last year, and his ruling Liberal-National coalition was leading the opposition Labor Party comfortably in recent polls.

But there are signs that Mr Turnbull's honeymoon period as Prime Minister may be ending, prompting election speculation.

An election is due by next January but has been widely expected for the second half of this year.

Under Australia's Constitution, Mr Turnbull faces a May 11 deadline to call a double dissolution election and the earliest it could be held is June.

In order to call such a poll, he needs a piece of legislation to be twice rejected by the Senate as the trigger. He has a labour Bill that has been defeated once, but he would need to recall Parliament early to allow time to reintroduce the Bill and have it voted on by the Senate before the May 11 deadline.

But to recall Parliament early, Mr Turnbull must bring forward the May 10 Budget as an excuse.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2016, with the headline 'Voting reforms pave way for early Australian election'. Print Edition | Subscribe