An official says Australia's prime minister has told government colleagues that an early general election within weeks is "a live option."

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull alone decides the timing of the next election. He has maintained that he plans for his government to run a full three-year term which would make the election due around September.

But a government minister said Turnbull told his colleagues Tuesday at their first meeting at Parliament House for the year that the election could be called much sooner.

The minister spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity because he was speaking as a spokesman for the meeting rather than as himself.

Turnbull can call an election as early as March 12.