The Australian public has endured the longest federal election campaign since the 1960s. Four days on from the July 2 poll, we still don’t know who the winner is, and the Australian Electoral Commission has said we may not know the final result for up to a month.
Australia’s Double Dissolution Election
Back in May, when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull officially announced an early July 2 election, he knew he was taking a gamble. In Australia’s usual three-year federal election cycle, the public is required (yes, it is compulsory to vote in Australia) to vote for all 150 House of Representatives seats, as well as half of the 76 Senate seats, the other half of which remain in the Senate until the following election, completing fixed six-year legislative terms. However, 2016 is peculiar as the Prime Minister made the rare decision to hold a ‘double dissolution’ election, meaning the Senate is also completely dissolved and elected afresh.
Double dissolution elections can be called by the Prime Minister when any proposed law, which is approved by the House of Representatives, persistently fails to be passed or is rejected by the Senate. It is essentially a means of breaking the deadlock between the two disagreeing houses of parliament. In the 2016 case, the Liberal-National government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and Registered Organisations (RO) bills, which sought to regulate unions in the construction industry, were repeatedly blocked by the opposition Labor Party, minor parties and independents in the Senate, where the government did not command a majority. As a result, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull used these blocked bills as a trigger to call a double dissolution election.
Malcolm Turnbull’s Gamble Appears to Have Backfired
Malcolm Turnbull no doubt saw a number of opportunities in calling a double dissolution election. Firstly, he likely believed that the Australian public would elect a more favourable Senate with less representatives from minor parties and independents, meaning that his next government could more easily pursue its policy agenda. Secondly, even if he didn’t gain a majority in the Senate, holding a double dissolution election allows a special ‘joint-sitting’ of parliament to convene specifically to vote on the pieces of legislation which triggered the election in the first place, namely the ABCC and RO bills, which would likely pass on account of the government’s expected comfortable majority in the House of Representatives.
However, the Prime Minister’s gamble appears to have backfired. It is now four days after the extremely close election and it still isn’t clear which major party, the Liberal-Nationals or Labor, or if indeed either of them, will be able to form a government by commanding a majority of at least 76/150 seats (as oppose to the 90 seats the government held prior to the election) in the House of Representatives. The most recent predictions suggest that Australia may be heading for a hung parliament – a disastrous result for Malcolm Turnbull – who would likely form a minority government whilst facing internal divisions within his own party amid growing questions over his leadership capabilities. Indeed, even if he does manage to scrape a majority of 76 he has still failed to capitalise on the two opportunities outlined above. One thing we do know is that the new Senate will contain at least as many, if not more, representatives from fringe parties and independents, meaning Turnbull will struggle to pass legislation in the Senate. Furthermore, it seems likely that the ABCC and RO bills will fail to pass even the joint-sitting of parliament.
As postal and absentee votes are still being counted, Australia hold’s its breath and waits for its political future to be determined.