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Explainer: the road to a July 2 double-dissolution election

Malcolm Turnbull appears to have built his government’s electoral strategy on contesting a double-dissolution election. AAP/Mick Tsikas

Australia appears set for a double-dissolution federal election on July 2 after the government’s bill to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission failed to pass the Senate – again.

How double dissolutions work

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appears to have built his government’s electoral strategy on contesting a double-dissolution election. Section 57 of the Constitution allows the governor-general to dissolve both the House of Representatives and the Senate and hold fresh elections if the Senate twice rejects a bill.

This, according to Westminster tradition, can only be done if the prime minister advises the governor-general to do so.

If the government is returned after winning the subsequent election (and the houses disagree again on the same bill), a joint sitting of both houses may be held to resolve the matter.

Unlike the House of Representatives, in which all seats are up for election, only half of the 12 senators from each state are up for election at a normal poll. At a double-dissolution election, however, all 12 senators are up for election from each state.

What about the budget?

Despite apparent miscommunication between the prime minister and treasurer, the budget has been brought forward a week to May 3. This is the biggest opportunity for the government to try and set its policy course and demonstrate to the electorate why it deserves another term in office.

Bringing the budget forward will also bring forward the budget reply speech, which is usually delivered by the opposition leader a couple of nights after the budget is handed down.

This speech will present Bill Shorten and Labor with a platform to present themselves as an attractive alternative to the Coalition. It would serve as a campaign launch of sorts. Labor could signal the policies it would pursue if elected to government.

Calling the election

With the budget and reply speech out of the way, the government will be free to call the double dissolution by May 11 and hold the election on July 2.

Doing so will ensure the government reduces the potential complications of backdating Senate terms.

A July 2 double-dissolution election would also mean that the government would have the full three years to govern.

The exodus from Canberra

Having a clearer sense of the election’s timing, MPs will leave Canberra and return to their electorates to embark on the final stage of campaign preparations.

Traditionally, it’s the MPs who hold seats with fine margins (from about 5% and under) who will engage in vigorous campaigning to head off their challengers.

This will be most evident in the shopping centres, cafés, small businesses and a range of community spaces that will be awash with candidates meeting with constituents, hearing their concerns and kissing their babies. Hard-hats and hi-vis jackets will be donned and sleeves will be rolled back. Partisan volunteers will be enlisted. The traditional stuffing of mailboxes with party paraphernalia will ensue.

A challenge for candidates, their staff, the media and commentators will be the length of the campaign. Usually, a federal campaign is around five weeks but this campaign will go beyond seven, if called for July 2 on May 11. With more campaign time comes more potential for gaffes and voter fatigue.

Australia’s 44th parliament may be coming to an end, but there will be plenty of political action before the 45th can start.

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