Malcolm Turnbull isn't discouraging speculation about a July election.
There are strong signs from within the government that the federal budget will be moved forward a week to May 3 to allow the passing of supply bills, before the prime minister calls a double dissolution election for July 2.
Campaigning south of Adelaide on Wednesday, Mr Turnbull told reporters: "I don't want to discourage you from engaging in (speculation), but I just say to you that the election will be held in the latter part of the year."
"As far as the budget is concerned, the budget is set down for May 10 and that's what we are working towards."
The government will need to reveal its thinking next week if it wants an earlier budget sitting.
The Senate requires that any change in sitting arrangements is the subject of a motion passed while senators are meeting.
Next week is the final scheduled parliamentary sitting week before the May 10 budget.
If an election is called on May 11, it would mean an election campaign of more than seven weeks.
Assistant Minister Karen Andrews admits that's a very long time.
"But I think there are some real positives in having a long campaign," she told Sky News.
It would give MPs the chance to spend a lot of time in their communities.
A July 2 election could not be called an early poll, she said.
"In July we will have been in government for 34 months so it would hardly be an early election," she said.
Cabinet minister Peter Dutton said he was prepared for an election now.
"I told my wife no holidays this year. I think any time between now and September," he told 2SM radio.
Nationals senator John Williams said the government would have no choice but to dissolve both houses if the Senate voted down legislation to restore the building industry watchdog.
Draft laws to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission has already been rejected once and could be a trigger for an election of both houses if its passage is blocked again.
"If the Senate rejects that, in my opinion, I think Malcolm Turnbull has no option but to go to a double-dissolution," he told ABC radio.
Former Victorian Liberal premier Jeff Kennett said the government was running scared.
"They're trying, I think, to use this talk of a double-dissolution, an early election, simply to cover up their own failings," he told radio 2UE.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is campaigning on the NSW Central Coast and will comment later on Wednesday.
An early federal poll? Here are the options:
- First possible date for a normal house of representatives and half-senate election is Saturday August 6; the last January 14, 2017.
- House-only election could be held before August 2016, but a half-senate election would be needed by May 13, 2017.
- Last opportunity to call a double-dissolution election for the House and all of the Senate is May 11, the day after the budget.
- Most likely date for a double-dissolution election is July 2, following a seven-week-plus campaign.
Previous double-dissolution elections:
- Joseph Cook called one in 1914, and won five seats.
- Robert Menzies 1951, lost five seats.
- Gough Whitlam 1974, lost one seat.
- Malcolm Fraser 1983, lost government.
- Bob Hawke 1984, retained government with a reduced majority in a bigger parliament.
- Hawke again in 1987, won four seats.
The case for a double-dissolution election:
- Clears the decks of recalcitrant crossbench senators. Under planned changes to the way Australians vote for the senate, crossbench numbers are likely to fall from eight now to two or three - possibly all from the Nick Xenophon group.
- The coalition is likely to win half the seats in the senate, with Labor, Greens and Xenophon group sharing the other half.
The case against:
- Lack of plausible triggers. So far only two pieces of government legislation - abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and new governance rules for trade unions - have been rejected twice by the senate.
- The related mechanics. The post-budget day deadline; requiring parliament to fast-track money bills; a long and arduous election campaign with the potential to antagonise voters.
What the government is considering:
- Bringing the budget forward to May 3 and use the sitting days until May 11 to have parliament approve its money bills and forcing the senate's hand on legislation to restore the building industry watchdog. A second rejection would give it a legitimate trigger for a double-dissolution election and provide a key plank for its re-election campaign.