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What is a double dissolution everyone is talking about?

19 Apr

Our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has laid down the gauntlet to the Australian Senate; pass the government’s industrial relations legislation or a double dissolution will be called!

But what even is a double dissolution election and what does it mean?  

In a usual, ordinary election half the seats in the Senate and all of the seats in our federal House of Representatives are up to re-election. In a double dissolution election situation however, all 76 Senate seats are emptied.

In Australia, when a bill passes the House of Representatives but the Senate rejects or fails to pass it on two separate occasions, with at least three months between each attempt, then the sitting government can request a dissolving of both houses of parliament by the Governor-General – this then leads to a double dissolution election being called.

So, after a double dissolution election the same bill can go before the Senate. If rejected or not passed again, the government can request that the Governor-General convene a joint sitting of the Senate and the House of Representative. Typically the government will have a majority in the lower house and since there are double the amount of lower house members of parliament than senators, a joint sitting is like to pass the legislation at the crux of the whole issue. A double dissolution election may also return a majority for the government in the Senate meaning that even without a joint sitting, the bill may be passed in both houses.

Why now?

The Turnbull government has two bills that have already been rejected twice by the Senate:

  • The abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation bill
  • The Registered Organisations bill


With the Registered Organisations bill set to go before the Senate for the third time, it could be the double dissolution trigger. If not, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation bill could be used.

So, the current House of Representative sat on the 12th November 2013 so the three year term expires on the 11th November 2016 – this means that the last date that a double dissolution can be called by Mr Turnbull is the 11th May 2016. The budget has been brought forward to 3rd May affording enough time for it to be passed, a double dissolution election to be called and parliament dissolved.

What next?

The Senate was not due to re-sit until the 10th May (after the budget) however the government has asked the Governor-General to prorogue or terminate the current session of parliament and recall it for a new session from the 18th April 2016. Now the proroguing of parliament terminates any business before the parliament but Senate standing orders do allow for the reintroduction of these matted and the bills before the Senate can be restored.

After much speculation the challenge has been set down by Malcolm Turnbull; if the Senate does not pass the industrial relations legislation in April then we could all be back at the polls soon. We only have to wait until the 11th of May to find out.

For more information contact the experienced team at Doran Financial Services.