Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull on Sunday announced fresh elections on July 2, a date that is several months ahead of schedule. Turnbull met with the Governor-General (akin to the President in the Indian system), Peter Cosgrove, and proposed a “double dissolution” of Parliament. Once the proposal is accepted, both Houses of Parliament would stand dissolved on Monday morning.
The Australian Parliament is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which can be understood as corresponding to Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in India. Should the two Houses disagree and a deadlock arise, the Australian Constitution provides for a procedure wherein the government can request the Governor-General to dissolve both Houses of Parliament and announce fresh elections. It is a rare provision, having been used the last time in 1987. The “double dissolution” procedure is similar to the dissolution of Parliament in India, with the crucial difference that the Rajya Sabha is a permanent House, and only the Lok Sabha can be dissolved.
Run-up to dissolution
An early election has, in fact, been widely anticipated. Earlier this month, hours after the Australian government released its Budget plans for the coming fiscal year, Turnbull confirmed he would call early general elections on July 2. At that moment too, this was not really a secret, and was an expected piece of news for Australians.
The Budget laid out by Prime Minister Turnbull’s Liberal Party-led government was vehemently opposed by the Labour Party. Bill Shorten, leader of Labour, claimed that the Budget, which promises to cut corporate taxes would be unfair to society at large. The Liberals, headed by Turnbull, on the other hand, argued that the Budget would give a fresh lease of life to the Australian economy by encouraging more industrial growth.
However, it seems the biggest factor leading to the double dissolution is the refusal of the Senate to pass a Bill allowing the creation of a building industry watchdog called the ‘Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).’ The ABCC had been dispersed in 2012 by the then Labour government.
The next step
The contest between the two parties appears close, with opinion polls showing them locked at 50% each. The election campaign would mainly focus on the economy, education and health. Commentators have described the coming tussle for power as one between a party that proposes higher economic growth and a party that is seeking a more equitable distribution of wealth.
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