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What's Up Down Under?
Turnbull’s Political Gamble

Last week, Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull surprised his political opponents by suggesting he might call for snap elections. The WSJ:

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Monday threatened snap elections if the country’s upper house Senate refused to pass reform bills affecting the building industry, saying the issue was vital for the country’s economic future.

The conservative government will recall lawmakers from a break for a special session of Parliament beginning April 18 to vote on controversial bills aimed at curbing the country’s powerful building unions, Mr. Turnbull said, and would call snap elections on July 2 if the measures were blocked.

“The time has come for the Senate to recognize its responsibilities and help advance our economic plans, rather than standing in the way,” Mr. Turnbull told reporters at Parliament. “This is an opportunity for the Senate to do its job of legislating rather than filibustering.”

Mr. Turnbull said if the Senate agreed to the construction bills, there would be no snap vote and the election would be held on time around September.

Australian politics in recent years has been dogged by intra-party squabbling, making it a challenge to get a solid legislative majority. Particularly in the closely divided Senate, the political system has been hijacked by small minority parties.

Turnbull, who took power after an internal power struggle with the former PM, Tony Abbott, seems to be trying to change that. It’s a gamble: the double dissolution after a long campaign could bring his opponents back to power. But if it succeeds, voters will have endorsed his replacement of Abbott, and he’ll have a solid majority in the Senate—in these unusual elections, every Senate seat would be up for grabs and polling indicates Turnbull’s coalition might do quite well.

This isn’t just a good thing for Turnbull. Whether the Coalition (conservative) or the Labour opposition (liberal) wins, Australia needs a strong and stable government at a time when the U.S. is an unpredictable ally and tensions are rising in Asia. A confident Australian government with a strong mandate will be well-placed to play a leading role in Asia politics.

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