What would a double dissolution election mean for you?

What is a double dissolution election?

A double dissolution election occurs when both houses of Parliament are dissolved because the Prime Minister says the House of Representatives can no longer work with the Senate to pass core or necessary legislation.

Once a piece of legislation has been rejected by the Senate twice it provides the Prime Minister with what is called the trigger.

The Prime Minister can then go to the Governor General and ask for the entire Parliament to be dissolved and an election called.

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What is the trigger that could potentially be used by Malcolm Turnbull?

The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) is a building industry watchdog that was dismantled under the Gillard government.

Legislation to reinstate the commission was re-introduced to the Senate during a special three-week sitting but it was rejected by the Senate on the first day.

The bills didn’t make it to the second reading stage which provided Malcolm Turnbull with a trigger for a double dissolution.    

Fergal Davis from the University of New South Wales says a double dissolution election is traditionally used to addressing policy at the centre of the government’s agenda.

"It should be about resolving a core policy issue," he said.

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"If the ABCC is that for the Turnbull government, well then it would make sense to go for a double dissolution. If it isn't then I'm not sure this is the right mechanism.”

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Why does a double dissolution election have to be called earlier than a normal election?

If the Prime Minister asks for the entire Parliament to be dissolved because it’s not working effectively then it has to be at least six months before the Parliament is due to expire.

In this case, the Parliament expires on November 11, 2016, three years after it was sworn in following the 2013 election.

So the latest Malcolm Turnbull can ask for a double dissolution is the May 11, but he’s signalled he’ll call on the Governor General the weekend after the May 3 budget is handed down.

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Why will it be a longer campaign?

The Senate elections are slightly different to those for the House of Representatives.

They serve fixed six year-long terms, and elections are normally held at the same time as the House of Representatives, but only half of the Senators have to stand at each election.

However, in the case of a double dissolution, all Senators must run for re-election.

Fergal Davis from UNSW says it shortens the term for Senators.

“If you have the election too early then you end up backdating the Senators' terms of office and you end up with the Senate and the House of Representatives election cycles being out of sync, which would either result in a half Senate election later in 2018, which governments generally don't like, or a very short term of office for the incoming government,” he said.

If an election were held before the June 30, another election would need to be held in 2018.

To avoid this Malcolm Turnbull would call the election for a weekend in July, hence the longer campaign. 

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How common are double dissolution elections?

The last double dissolution election was in 1987 when Bob Hawke defeated John Howard.

He asked the Governor General Sir Ninian Stephen to dissolve the Parliament over legislation relating to the Australia Card.

Interestingly, the policy didn’t feature as a major part of the campaign and after the Parliament resumed the legislation was dropped.

There have been six double dissolution elections in total and the incumbent government has lost two of them. 

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