Australian PM Turnbull weighs calling early elections to break political deadlock

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull raised the possibility of calling an early election to break a political deadlock. PHOTO: EPA

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday (Feb 2) raised the possibility of dissolving both houses of Parliament and calling an early election to break a political deadlock that has stymied the government, government officials aware of the matter said.

Mr Turnbull, who deposed former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a party coup last year, told a private meeting of his Liberal Party that he expected the government to run a full term but had not ruled out a so-called double-dissolution election.

A double-dissolution election is rarely used in Australia and allows for snap elections for all the seats in both houses to break an impasse.

"He said a double-dissolution was a live option, which would have to be weighed up," one official told Reuters, on condition of anonymity, discussing the closed-door meeting. "Addressing the topic of timing of the election, he said that 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."

A second government official with knowledge of the briefing confirmed the account.

A spokesman for Mr Turnbull declined to comment on speculation about when the election will be held.

Attempts by Mr Abbott to push his conservative agenda on entitlement, higher education and industrial reforms through the divided upper house Senate were blocked by independent senators and the centre-left Labor Party, helping lead to his ouster.

Mr Turnbull held out the possibility of dissolving parliament if the Senate refuses to pass a Bill reinstating an industrial relations watchdog disbanded by the Labour government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Australian governments are elected for three-year terms. Lower House MPs must contest their seats in every election, while senators serve for six years, with half their membership contesting every three years.

Mr Turnbull became Australia's fifth prime minister in as many years when he ousted Mr Abbott last September, contributing to a growing sense of political instability in the country.

He has enjoyed a strong polling edge against his chief rival, Labour Party leader Bill Shorten, and any talk of an early election could be aimed at exploiting that perceived weakness to win the government more room to push its agenda.

There have been six double-dissolution elections in Australian history, but not all have gone well for the governments that called them.

In 1983 Liberal Party Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser called a double dissolution in which he lost power to the Labour Party, led by Mr Bob Hawke. Four years later, Mr Hawke used the same tactic, but was still unable to win a majority in the Senate.

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