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Rare double dissolution for Oz sets scene for close election

Opinion Piece

All the excitement and media attention generated by the US presidential election has overshadowed another that is at least as important for this country.

The dramatic decision of Malcolm Turnbull to dissolve both houses of Parliament has set the scene for what should be a fascinating contest. Latest available polls have the two main parties, the Liberal-Nationals and Labor, at 50 percent after minor party preferences are counted.

The election on July 2 will follow one of Australia’s longest campaigns, 56 days — the longest since 1969 which lasted 66 days.

The rare double dissolution, which came because Turnbull said the upper house was blocking legislation, will see all 150 seats in the House of Representatives and 76 in the Senate contested. There have only been six double dissolutions in Australia’s history, the latest in 1987.

Australian politics has been volatile in recent years. Since 2007 the country has had five prime ministers, with some wits describing it as the Italy of the South Pacific. Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd swapped twice and after a change of government in 2013 they were followed by Tony Abbot who was ousted last September by Turnbull.

The main election issues are expected to be the economy, as Australia seeks to move from a mining boom to balanced growth, plus education and health.

Labor, led by trade unionist Bill Shorten, needs a swing of 21 seats or 4.3 percent to become the government. Shorten says he will make education a focus and that Turnbull, a self-made multimillionaire, is seriously out of touch. Turnbull is urging the country to “stay the course”.

Despite the rise of China to be our biggest trading partner, Australia remains essential to this country’s economy and is of huge importance politically.

New Zealanders love to poke the borax at our neighbours across the Tasman who are also our greatest sporting rivals, but we should not underestimate how vital the country is to us.

What happens there has flow-on effects here. This is a campaign we should be watching closely.