Sydney: Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull threatened on Monday to hold early general elections in July unless the upper house agrees to pass deadlocked legislation to overhaul unions.
Turnbull came to power in a ruling party coup in September calling for better management of Australia's economy, but his government does not control the Senate and has failed to push through industrial relations bills. The laws aim to bring back the watchdog Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), which was scrapped by the former Labor government and is loathed by union leaders.
"These reforms will ensure that unions are more accountable, more transparent, managed in the same manner, transparent manner that public companies should be managed," Turnbull said.
A government inquiry into trade union corruption reported in December "widespread" and "deep-seated" misconduct, but the opposition hit back, accusing the coalition of exploiting the royal commission to conduct an anti-union witch-hunt.
"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," Turnbull said, setting the date for July 2. The premier said he will recall parliament from April 18 for a three-week session to pass the laws. If that fails, both houses would need to be dissolved by May 11 to allow for a July vote. "The time for playing games is over," Turnbull said. The prime minister is expected to win an election but support for his conservative coalition has dipped in recent weeks as promised economic and tax reform have failed to materialise.
Turnbull has previously said he expected elections to be held between August and October, ahead of a January 2017 deadline, as he seeks to consolidate power after Australia changed prime minister five times in as many years. The government last week won a vote in the Senate to reform electoral laws, after harnessing support from the Greens party.
The changes to Australia's transferable ballot system, where voters rank parties or candidates according to preference, are aimed at reducing the number of micro parties who have successfully blocked government policies over the last three years.