Malcolm Turnbull (Australian PM) has just called a double dissolution election. I understand why he can, but I don't understand why he would want to.

If the polls showed the Liberals well ahead I can understand but it's basically a dead heat right now so to me, there's no advantage.

Why would he exercise his right to call an election now instead of waiting for when the polls are more in his favour? What strategy is he hoping to employ with this move?

  • 3
    I added a link for those of us who don't know what a double dissolution election is. Reading up on this, he may think that their polls are headed downward (as they've dropped since he formed a government). This way he can have an election in July rather than August. Also, wasn't a regular election due? He may feel that he has a better opportunity to pick up Senate seats in those that weren't up than those that were. But all that's speculative.
    – Brythan
    Commented May 8, 2016 at 5:39
  • I am not really familiar with current politics of Australia, but from the wikipedia article it seems there is some law being passed back and forth between the two houses. Since the double dissolution is needed to get the joint sitting (which would solve the issue definitely if the situation still stuck), maybe he wants to avoid a) new regular elections (2nd July 2016) which provide a new Parliament that still is deadlocked followed by b) double dissolution and c) joint sitting, by skipping to b) directly. Which is the law triggering the double dissolution?
    – SJuan76
    Commented May 8, 2016 at 18:25

2 Answers 2


Without a direct answer from Malcolm Turnbull, it's difficult to say why, exactly, he decided to do it when he did. However, as Tim Malone has stated (and provided some good reasons) - it's possible to speculate.

In my opinion, there's one main reason as to why it was called now: control of the Senate.

Since the last election, the Coalition Government (LNP) has enjoyed the majority in the House of Representatives. As this page on the Composition of the 44th Parliament shows, the coalition has 90 of the 150 available seats. A comfortable majority which allows them to pass pretty much anything they like in the Lower House.

The Senate, however, is a very different story. As shown in that handy graph, of the 76 Senate seats, the Coalition holds only 33, less than the majority needed to effectively legislate. The breakdown, for those who may not be able to follow the link, is as below:

  • Coalition: 33
  • Labor: 25
  • Greens: 10
  • Independents: 4
  • Palmer United: 1
  • Liberal Democrats: 1
  • Family First: 1
  • Motoring Enthusiasts: 1

This has left the Senate with a crossbench of 18 members, the highest in Australian political history. And while the Labor Party doesn't have enough numbers to automatically block anything the Liberal Party put forward, the flip side of that is that the Liberals don't have the numbers to push anything through - meaning they have to make deals with members of the crossbench to get any measures supported.

Because Senate terms are usually 6 years, half are usually up for grabs in a normal election, as was planned for this year. The LNP's biggest problem, however, is that of that 18 member cross bench, 11 of those Senators were elected in 2013 (meaning their term would expire in 2019/2020). This ABC page shows the senate results from the last election in 2013.

So if the election were to continue as normal this year (without the Double Dissolution) - of the 38 Senate seats up for grabs, the LNP would have to retain their existing 16 seats and win an additional 6 seats to gain the majority of 39 Senate seats.

Given the rise of the Greens over the last decade in particular, this is far from a certain event. What the government is hoping to do, however, is reduce the number of independent/crossbench senators and, subsequently, their reliance on them.

It is a gamble, of course. But as PM, Malcolm Turnbull has nothing really to lose. The LNP don't currently control the Senate, and it was due to be an election year anyway. This provides the opportunity for the government to start afresh with a 'clean slate' as it were.


I too wondered the same thing - it was, and still is proving to be, a risky move on his part.

In the end it's only going to be speculation as to why he did it.

It could be that he wants (or needs) to show he has the guts to stand behind his principles. Malcolm Turnbull hasn't officially 'won an election' yet, so amongst the more politically literate of the voting public it's possible that standing firm is a respectable position to take for a Prime Minister.

However, making people go to the polls usually damages the government of the day, so its still a risky move - on the other hand, that is somewhat balanced by the fact that an ordinary election was due later in the year anyway.

Further, without calling a double dissolution election, Turnbull would have had to effectively abandon the government's agenda on three "trigger bills", including amendments to the Fair Work Act and reforms to the Building and Construction Industry (one and two).

Given the building reforms relate to a promise made in the previous federal election, it could be argued that the government is not doing all it can to keep this promise if it was to let these bills lapse without a fight. On the other hand, it could choose to just accuse the opposition of not allowing it to govern according to the mandate received at the previous election, which is a tactic commonly employed.

(Of note also is that Turnbull earlier threatened the double dissolution election. Threats like this have happened before and haven't been followed through on, but it's possible that once the threat was made, Turnbull had little choice but to stick to his guns, given the shaky polls and the fact he wasn't 'elected by the people'.)

If the government loses this election, these bills will probably just lapse as has happened in previous situations like this. If the government wins, the desired outcome for it would be that a more favourable senate is elected, and the bill is passed. However this may or may not happen, and a joint sitting may be required. It's also anyone's guess as to how that would go!

Finally, there's also precedent that elections called on double dissolution triggers are not really about those triggers at all. There's nothing saying the Prime Minister can't use the provisions in the letter of the law to achieve whatever he or she wants politically, after all, and this has happened before in 1951 when Menzies campaigned on communism rather than the trigger he used for the election, which was a Commonwealth Bank Bill.

In summary, any of this is speculation and no-one can really know for sure why Malcolm Turnbull took this step. It is a risk, but one he has balanced. Only time will tell if the risk is worth it.

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