What Is A Double Dissolution Election?

The federal government has declared Australia will have a double dissolution election if the Senate does not pass industrial relations laws. So what’s a double dissolution?

Having seen their voting reform amendments successfully (finally) pass the Senate after a marathon sitting, the government is threatening to call a double dissolution election on July 2nd if industrial relations law reforms are not passed. The new voting reforms, by the way, come into effect on July 1st!

In order to debate the reforms, Parliament will need to be recalled from the break that they are now on, with the recall scheduled for April 18th.

Announcing the decision, Prime  Minister Malcolm Turnbull warned the Senate that the time for playing games is over.

“The time has come for the Senate to recognise its responsibilities and help advance our economic plans – rather than standing in the way,” he said.

“Today, I called upon His Excellency the Governor General to advise him to recall both Houses of Parliament on April 18 to consider and pass the Australian Building and Construction Commission Bills and the Registered Organisations Bill and he has made a proclamation to that effect.
I make no apology for interrupting Senators’ seven week break to bring them back to deal with this legislation.
This is an opportunity for the Senate to do its job of legislating rather than filibustering – the go-slows and obstruction by Labor and the Greens on this key legislation must end.”

“If the Senate fails to pass these laws, I will advise the Governor General to dissolve both Houses of Parliament and issue writs for an election.”

Putting aside the desired industrial relations changes, what is a double dissolution election?

About double dissolution

Essentially, Section 57 of the Australian Constitution allows the government to call for an early dissolution of both houses of parliament (the House of Representatives and the Senate). If a piece of legislation is passed y the House of Representatives and rejected by the Senate twice, this can trigger a double dissolution.

Section 57 states the following:

Disagreement between the Houses

“If the House of Representatives passes any proposed law, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, and if after an interval of three months the House of Representatives, in the same or the next session, again passes the proposed law with or without any amendments which have been made, suggested, or agreed to by the Senate, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, the Governor-General may dissolve the Senate and the House of Representatives simultaneously.”

Past double dissolutions in Australia

There have only been half a dozen double dissolutions in Australia; it’s not something that political parties undertake lightly. Here’s a rundown of the previous events:

1914 – the Liberal party called a double dissolution due to the inability to pass legislation to abolish preferential employment for trade union members in the public service. The Liberals lost the election and the legislation was not passed.

1951 – Prime Minister Robert Menzies sought a double dissolution in order to reverse Labor’s attempts at nationalising the banks. Menzies won a majority in both houses.

1974 – Prime Minister Gough Whitlam called a double dissolution due to the inability to get a large amount of legislation through a hostile Senate. The Labor party was returned to power – but still without a majority in the Senate.

1975 – After the dismissal of the Whitlam government, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser requested the government be dismissed and a new election held. He comfortably won the subsequent election.

1983 – Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser sought a double dissolution, citing the unwillingness of the Senate to pass 13 bills. Bob Hawke won the election and Labor remained in power  for many years.

1987 – The Hawke government called a double dissolution after the rejection of the Australia Card Bill. The Labor government was returned to power, but still without a Senate majority. Ultimately the Australia Card legislation was abandoned.

Political uncertainty not good for business confidence

Political uncertainty is never good for business confidence, and according to Roy Morgan the current level of business confidence is below the five year average. Businesses have less confidence about the performance of the Australian economy over the next year and next 5 years.

No doubt a strong federal budget and strong election result – whatever party benefits – will do much to give business a boost.

Share this article