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Australia to face July election as lawmakers set to reject bills
[CANBERRA] Every Australian federal lawmaker is set to face election in July as laws proposed by the government appear unlikely to pass when parliament resumes this week.
A failure by the upper house Senate to back legislation to establish a building industry watchdog and set up a commission to regulate unions is expected to prompt Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to call an election for July 2.
The bills need support from six of the eight independent and micro-party lawmakers, who as a group are referred to as cross benchers in Australian media.
"I certainly won't vote for it in its current form," Senator Glenn Lazarus, the former professional footballer who quit the Palmer United Party in March 2015 and is among the eight independents, said in an interview on the Australian Broadcasting Corp's Insiders program.
"I think Malcolm Turnbull, and his government's popularity, is waning at a rapid rate."
An election will come as Mr Turnbull's government trails the opposition for the first time since he took over seven months ago.The latest Newspoll survey published in The Australian newspaper on April 5 showed the Liberal-National coalition falling behind the Labor Party on a two-party preferred basis, 49 per cent to 51 per cent.
"Positions have hardened since the last time," Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm said on Sky News's AM Agenda program. "I can't see" the building watchdog bills passing, he said.
The Liberal-National coalition will seek a vote on the legislation in the upper house as it has planned, George Brandis, Australia's attorney-general and leader of the government in the Senate, said in a separate AM Agenda interview.
"We want to do everything we can to ensure these bills are enacted," Mr Brandis said.
A double-dissolution election hasn't been held since 1987. All 150 seats in the House of Representatives and all 76 Senate seats are up for grabs in such a ballot. In a normal election, only half the senators from the six states are replaced.
"We have no concerns about the government's intentions to go to a double-dissolution election if that's what they choose," Labor lawmaker Brendan O'Connor said on AM Agenda.
Some of the cross-bench senators are confident they can retain their positions, even after the government changed the rules to make it harder for independent candidates to be elected.
"I think there's a pretty good chance there'll be a cross bencher in every state," Mr Leyonhjelm said. "More Xenophon is a certainty," he said, referring to Senator Nick Xenophon, whose team could win three or four seats in South Australia in a double-dissolution election, according to ABC election analyst Antony Green.
Family First Senator Bob Day, who supports the building watchdog proposals, thinks there may be a backlash over the new voting rules.
"I don't think the Senate voting changes help the government's cause," he said. "There is no such thing as an unloseable election."
The next election won't include former Speaker for the House of Representatives Bronwyn Bishop, who was passed over by the Liberal Party to represent them at the next federal election.
The 73-year-old was defeated in a pre-selection battle by Jason Falinski, who was Mr Turnbull's preferred candidate, The Age newspaper reported Saturday.
Ms Bishop stood down from her role as speaker in August amid controversy over travel expenses, which included a A$5,000 (S$5,211) helicopter ride to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser.
She was elected to the Senate in 1987 before resigning in 1994 to contest and win the seat of Mackellar in Sydney's north. She served as minister for the defense industry, science and personnel, and also as minister for aged care in her time in parliament.
"Bronwyn Bishop has a very secure and honored place in the Liberal Party," Mr Brandis said. "She will be remembered as a life-long warrior for the liberal cause."