Australian prime minister raises prospect of early election over housing impasse

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By Lewis Jackson

SYDNEY, July 31 (Reuters) – Australia could go to an election more than a year ahead of schedule as opposition parties threaten to block a flagship housing bill for a second time, providing the government with the constitutional trigger for an early election.

The parliamentary deadlock revolves around the centre-left Labor government’s A$10 billion ($6.7 billion) housing package, which The Greens party is refusing to pass through the upper house without changes to increase spending and cap rents. Governments can dissolve both houses of parliament if the upper house twice blocks a bill passed by the lower house.

The Greens in June voted with the opposition centre-right Liberal Party to delay the housing bill. Speaking on Monday as parliament resumed, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he preferred the bill passed the Senate but if it did not, the trigger for a double-dissolution election could focus attention on the policy.

“Well, I’d rather not have it. I’d rather have this policy passed,” Albanese said on ABC radio. “What it does is mean that can be a focus, and then you have a joint sitting after a double-dissolution election is held.” An election would normally be due around early 2025.

Labor and the Greens back action to tackle Australia’s housing crisis but disagree on the approach. Labor has proposed to create a A$10 billion fund to finance at least A$500 million worth of social and affordable housing each year.

The Greens want A$2.5 billion in annual housing spending and, most controversially, a national freeze on rents. Australia has only had seven double-dissolution elections since becoming a nation in 1901.

Most recently in 2016, the then-ruling Liberal Party triggered one over several jobs and union bills only to return to power with fewer senate seats.

($1 = 1.4981 Australian dollars)

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. EPA-EFE/TOMS KALNINS

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