Australian PM Turnbull takes bold gamble, sets July 2 poll in motion

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the House of Representatives in Canberra on March 17, 2016.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the House of Representatives in Canberra on March 17, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull set the stage for early elections on July 2, despite signs his personal popularity is sagging, by recalling parliament in the boldest gamble of his short leadership.  

Parliament will be recalled from its seven-week recess to sit on April 18, Mr Turnbull said on Monday (March 21), to vote on labour reform Bills that are likely to be blocked in the upper house Senate by smaller parties such as the influential Greens and the main centre-left opposition Labor Party.  

The release of the 2015/16 national budget would also be moved forward by one week to May 3, he said.

“The time for playing games is over,” Mr Turnbull said in a nationally televised news conference. “This is an opportunity for the Senate to do its job of legislating rather than filibustering. The go-slows and obstruction by Labor and the Greens on this key legislation must end,” he said.

The wheels were set in motion for an early poll when the Senate passed voting reforms on Friday after a marathon session.

An election is due by January 2017, but has been expected to be called for the second half of 2016.

In order to call such a poll, Mr Turnbull needs a piece of legislation twice defeated by the Senate as the trigger.

“Because such a double dissolution must be done on or before May 11, the government will be bringing the budget forward to Tuesday, May 3,” Mr Turnbull said.

Independent and minor party senators elected at the last election in 2013 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 would make it harder for smaller parties to enter Parliament through vote sharing deals. Mr Turnbull argued that by eliminating these parties from Parliament, he would be able to pass key economic reforms.