LNP moves to stamp out micro-parties' preference games

PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull has given the strongest indication yet he may force a double dissolution election, after the government introduced Senate voting reforms yesterday.

The reforms aim to strengthen the Coalition's vote in the upper house and reduce the likelihood of micro-parties "gaming the system" of preferences that led to senators being elected on a fraction of a quota at the last election.

While Mr Turnbull said he still plans to run full term, with an election due by October, introducing the reforms yesterday shows the government hopes to pass the changes to prevent "preference harvesting" ahead of the 2016 poll.

It comes as a Newspoll yesterday showed Labor and the Coalition 50-50 on the two-party preferred measure.

But a double dissolution election presents challenges because it must be declared by May 11 to ensure a vote was held in the allowed timeframe of at least three months before the date a normal election is due.

May 11 is one day after the federal budget.

That could have voters going to the polls in July, if the government uses its existing double dissolution trigger - legislation to reform registered organisations that has been twice rejected by the Upper House. If the government went to an early election, the budget would form its chief re-election platform, despite no stated tax reform agenda and promises of more spending cuts and little towards income tax cuts, given the abandonment of a GST rise.

Mr Turnbull said the voting reforms would bring changes to "above the line" voting, so people could vote for one party only or number one to six the named parties, with any further preferences "exhausted".

Both the Greens and independent Senator Nick Xenophon were expected to back the changes.

Labor is yet to say.

The voting reforms were introduced in the House yesterday, and were expected to be referred to a parliamentary committee to examine until March 2.

Mr Turnbull indicated he hoped the legislation would pass before the spring recess, or by March 17 - the final sitting day before the budget is expected to be handed down.

Topics:  federal politics lnp politics senate

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