Confused? Our guide to the double dissolution

THE Opposition says it's ready to rumble as soon as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calls an election, and it could be an early double dissolution.

In a normal federal election all Lower House MPs face the polls and only half the senators do - because the term of a senator is normally twice the term of an MP.

But in a double dissolution election, all MPs and all senators face voters.

Daniel Burdon asked Australian National University's Professor John Wanna about Mr Turnbull's options for the coming election and what it means for you.

Confused? Here's Professor Wanna's quick guide: 

What is a double dissolution and why would the Prime Minister want one?

A double dissolution is when the Prime Minister asks the Governor-General to dissolve both Houses of Parliament, (to trigger a federal election) on the grounds he can't get the Senate to pass key legislation. But the Senate has to reject the legislation twice to create a 'trigger' that the PM can use.

Cleaning the senate (crossbench) out would be one of the main motivations for a 'double d', if he takes any other option, he'll still have six crossbenchers there.

The current parliament expires in November this year. What are Mr Turnbull's current election options?

He can do three things; have a House of Representatives election on its own at any time with a 30-day campaign. Or he can call a House of Representatives and half-Senate election any time - which is just a normal election.

Or he can call a double dissolution, but that has to be called by May 11 for a July 2 election, because it needs to be called six months before parliament expires.

So he's got a series of opportunities at the moment that will narrow rapidly the longer he leaves it.

How likely is a double dissolution and how would it affect the Senate?

If he doesn't call a 'double d', (Senator John) Madigan is the only one up (facing the polls), although he hasn't been the government's biggest problem on the crossbench.

If he does call it, and under the new Senate voting rules, it's almost certain that he will, then most of the (other crossbench) senators would not be re-elected. [Including Senators Jacqui Lambie (Jacqui Lambie Network), Glenn Lazarus (independent), Dio Wang (Palmer United Party), Ricky Muir (Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party), David Leyonhjelm (Liberal Democratic Party) and Bob Day (Family First).]

A double dissolution could also mean the Greens could even lose a seat or two - probably in Queensland and South Australia, and Sen Xenophon's party might even pick up one or two others.

How would a double dissolution affect voters?

It won't have a huge impact on voters, but if (Mr Turnbull) calls one, for most voters who vote above the line, it will be under a new system of optional preferential voting - so people will only really be voting for six parties, or 12 senators, and then all preferences would be extinguished.

What are the risks for the government in going to a double dissolution?

What will complicate this is that if he calls it on May 11, that's one day after the current budget day, he can't have it before July 1, so that's a very long campaign.

We're talking about a 52-day national election campaign that voters will be forced to deal with. The reality is even the political parties can't afford to keep it up for that long and most people will switch off until the final week or couple of days.

Ten common political terms explained:

Above the line (and below): Refers to the Senate ballot paper, where voters usually vote for one party "above the line" only, and the party allocates the preferences for the voter. Fewer than 1% of voters vote "below the line", where they have to individually number every candidate in order of their preferences. Under the new voting rules, the 2016 election will mean voters now can vote "above the line", nominating their "number one" party, or number the top six parties, before their preferences are cancelled out.

Bellwether: An electorate or seat that always votes with the government of the day, such as Eden-Monaro in New South Wales that has voted with the winning party since 1972.

Gerrymander: The practice of setting or manipulating electoral boundaries or districts to favour one party over another, which Labor has complained kept former Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen in power for too long.

Pork barrel: A government program or grants system used to fund projects in electorates, often marginal, where the government is trying to curry favour.

Dark Horse: An unknown or low-profile candidate who pundits believe could win a seat against a higher-profile figure or long-standing incumbent.

Dorothy Dixer: A pre-organised question asked by government MPs of ministers in order to spruik the government's agenda or achievements. From an American newspaper columnist, Dorothy Dix, who used to write her own questions for her Q&A column.

Kitchen Cabinet: An informal, small group of senior politicians often consulted by the Prime Minister on major issues - usually four or five people, who hold influence over the wider Cabinet.

Machiavellian: An adjective for manipulative, cynical political behaviour where morals or ethics could be questionable. Often used to describe the machinations behind leadership coups. Named after Niccolo Machiavelli who wrote about unscrupulous politicians.

Plebiscite: A national vote on a specific issue that is not legally binding.

Psephology: The statistical study of elections and voting behaviour that often has to take into account major demographic changes.

Referendum: A national vote on a question posed to change the Constitution, where to succeed, the question has to be agreed to by a majority of voters overall and by a majority in a majority of states. 

BREAKOUT: Some of the political parties you may never have heard of

MOST Australians vote for the Coalition or Labor, but there are a host of unusual and sometimes single-platform parties that inhabit our electoral landscape.

Here are a few of the parties you may not have heard of:

Australian Cyclists Party: As the name suggests, single-issue party dedicated to "well-researched, evidence-based" policies that support "a cycling-friendly Australia".

Australian Anti-paedophile Party: A recently-registered party, dedicated to helping parents fight what it calls "the injustices of the family court".

Bullet Train for Australia: Registered in 2013, this single-issue party lobbies for a high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Brisbane, and other similar rail links around the country.

Consumer Rights and No-Tolls: A consumer-rights driven party dedicated, among other things, to "reinstate an ethical distance between government and business", including lobbying to abolish road tolls, high fees and predatory lending, animal cruelty and protecting civil liberties.

Help End Marijuana Prohibition Party: A single-issue party pushing for marijuana legalisation for personal, medicinal and industrial use.

Pirate Party: A civil liberties, personal privacy and government transparency party as well as a pro-Bill of Rights party.

Smokers' Rights Party: This single-issue party is dedicated to reducing tax on tobacco products, abolishing plain packaging laws and sale restrictions.

Seniors United Party: A party formed this year by a group of largely New South Wales retirees, to ensure seniors' voices are heard in politics, as well as prevent disadvantage and exploitation of older Australians. - ARM NEWSDESK

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