Turnbull Wins Bid to Overhaul Elections for Australia's Senate

  • Reforms seen as a sign government preparing for July 2 ballot
  • Independent candidates will find it harder to win Senate seats

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull overhauled voting laws to make it harder for independent candidates to be elected to the Senate -- a sign he may be preparing for elections as soon as July in a bid to strengthen his grip on power.

Turnbull has argued the reforms are needed to stop so-called micro-parties from winning seats in the upper house, despite garnering only tiny fractions of the vote. Eight independent and micro-party lawmakers collectively hold the balance of power in the Senate and are helping block A$13 billion ($10 billion) in budget savings.

The opposition Labor Party, which opposed the reforms in a marathon, all-night debate in parliament, says the government is preparing to clean out the independents by calling a double dissolution election as early as July 2. Such an election would see all 150 seats in the House of Representatives and all 76 Senate seats up for grabs.

The prime minister, who has seen the government’s opinion-poll lead evaporate amid criticism he’s failed to deliver a clear policy agenda for Australia, has said the election will be in the second half of the year.

The latest he can call a double dissolution is May 11, one day after the annual budget is due to be delivered; that would would allow the election to be held on July 2, earlier than the normal August-October time frame.

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