Australian leader leaves open option of early July election

AP News
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Posted: Mar 07, 2016 8:56 PM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's prime minister on Tuesday left open the possibility of a national election as early July as a new opinion poll suggested his leadership honeymoon with voters had ended.

Malcolm Turnbull has until May 11 to announce a rare early election on July 2, July 9 or July 16.

But his new administration is scheduled to deliver its first annual budget to Parliament on May 10. That would leave Turnbull with a single hectic day before the election deadline expired to pass crucial bills through Parliament that would allow the government to continue spending money in the new fiscal year which starts in July.

Some observers suspect Turnbull will bring forward the budget by a week to allow him more time to outline his government's economic plan for the next fiscal year as well as call the early election, most likely to be held on July 2 or July 9.

Turnbull on Tuesday would not say if his government was committed to the May 10 budget date.

"The budget will be delivered in May," Turnbull told reporters.

An early budget would leave little doubt that Australia was headed for its first early election — called a double dissolution election because both the House of Representatives and the Senate are dissolved — since 1987.

Turnbull told government colleagues last month that he planned to hold an election around the usual time in September, but said an early election was "a live option."

The center-right ruling coalition was trailing the center-left Labor Party in opinion polls for more than a year until Turnbull replaced the unpopular Tony Abbott as prime minister in September.

The government immediately soared in the polls under Turnbull. But the respected Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper on Tuesday showed the government and the opposition were now neck-and-neck with 50 percent of voter support each. That was the same as a Newspoll two weeks ago.

The latest Newspoll was based on interviews with 1,815 voters nationwide conducted at the weekend. It had a 3 percentage point margin of error.

Some commentators have complained of a lack of policy direction under Turnbull. The government has also been destabilized by infighting between Turnbull and Abbott supporters.