Monday, December 2, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Senate shambles
The government faces an unpredictable and fractious crossbench

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson. © Mick Tsikas / AAP Image

Labor leader Anthony Albanese recently described the upper house as “the most conservative-friendly Senate that we’ve seen since WorkChoices was introduced”. So it is somewhat surprising that the Morrison government is struggling to cobble together the three votes it needs to gain majority support in the Senate, from a combination of One Nation, Centre Alliance and independent Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, who between them account for five votes. One Nation is unpredictable, granted, but the government is not managing the relationship well. Hanson’s torpedoing of the union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill led to apparent retaliation this morning, with the government scotching debate on One Nation’s Saving Australian Dairy Bill. Where the government does have Hanson’s support – on repeal of the medevac laws – it has so far failed to secure the support of Centre Alliance. The country is holding its breath to find out which way Jacqui Lambie will vote on medevac, even after months of negotiation. This all underlines that the Coalition’s victory in May, while surprising, was hardly emphatic. From now until 2022, the Morrison government can take nothing for granted.

The government has accused One Nation of doing a deal with the CFMEU ahead of next year’s Queensland election, and claims to have text messages from Hanson promising to support the Ensuring Integrity Bill, which she has flatly denied. The government won’t release them – either because they’re bluffing, or because it would be impolitic to put out private messages, and could wreck the relationship with One Nation for good. The prime minister this afternoon indicated the government would reintroduce the bill to the Senate this week. The negotiations will fall to the leader of the government in the Senate, Mathias Cormann, who admits he was “absolutely blindsided” by Hanson’s vote last Thursday. Cormann, once regarded as one of the Coalition’s best performers, has a mountain to climb to restore his formidable reputation as an honest broker in the Senate after finding himself on the wrong side of last year’s botched coup against then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

For her part, Jacqui Lambie appears to be making a renewed bid for relevance, after being sidelined by the government when it declined to consider her amendments to the Ensuring Integrity Bill. In her second term in the Senate, Lambie has proved a more effective operator, but her vacillation on the union-busting laws and her secretive negotiations with the government over the medevac repeal are hardly an example of open politics. Where’s the transparency? Where’s the policy principle? Until The Sydney Morning Herald reported last week that Lambie’s condition for supporting medevac repeal was a third-country resettlement option, the public had been completely in the dark.

Debate on the government’s medevac repeal bill began in the Senate today, and there is expected to be at least six hours of debate before a vote, which is unlikely to take place tonight. Lambie will break a lot of hearts if she votes with the government to repeal medevac, which is supported by Labor, the Greens and a majority of Australians.

In the wake of the Ensuring Integrity Bill defeat, Sky News Australia host Peta Credlin recalled the Coalition’s long-standing complaint about Senate obstructionism, calling again for reform of the upper house. That is not the point – the Senate is doing its job. The fundamental reality is that the government has only lukewarm support for its policy agenda from the Australian people, and that is reflected in both houses. It has a one-seat majority in the lower house, which is threatened by a number of court challenges, potential floor-crossers like Llew O’Brien and Barnaby Joyce, or by the next controversy involving Gladys Liu or scandal-prone energy minister Angus Taylor (who was this afternoon accused by Labor of failing to disclose his interest in another company, GFA F1 Pty Ltd). In the upper house, despite the pro-conservative leanings of the non-Greens crossbench, it’s becoming a shambles. Whether or not the government gets a “win” on medevac this week, it’s hardly auspicious for the country. 

“[We] are very concerned following the most recent consular access that we have had about the treatment, and we have raised these issues consistently now for some time, and we would like to see the issues about access to lawyers, about getting a clear enunciation of what the matter is that have been brought against the Australian citizen at the centre of this case, and, thirdly, that his access to family and treatment that would meet … world standards is being provided to him. Now, the most recent consular access was a matter of great concern to me and the foreign minister, and we will continue to make those representations on behalf of an Australian citizen.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison responds to questions about Australian pro-democracy activist Yang Hengjun who is detained in China, and is reportedly shackled and subject to daily interrogations.

“That was a massive error of political judgement. It has had disastrous and long-lasting consequences for Australia’s ability to respond effectively to climate change. Australia’s annual emissions are now projected by the Department of the Environment and Energy to climb to 540 million tonnes in 2020 and to keep rising to 563 million tonnes by 2030. By contrast, under the CPRS Australia’s emissions would have been reduced to 459 million tonnes in 2020.”

The assistant shadow minister for climate change, Pat Conroy, blames the Greens for Australia’s higher greenhouse gas emissions since 2009, when the minor party voted against the Rudd government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

Inside the Westpac scandal
As the fallout from the Westpac scandal continues, attempts are already underway to limit corporate responsibility. Michael West on why the story broke and what happens next.

The likely federal budget surplus in 2019–20, according to Deloitte Access Economics forecaster Chris Richardson, which is lower than the $7.1 billion predicted in the April budget.

“We’re investing $87.8 million for a new Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce. It highlights our focus on stepping up our efforts as the threats to Australia evolve. The taskforce will work in to the National Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator that we established last year in the Department of Home Affairs and expand the resources the coordinator has at their fingertips. It will be led by a senior ASIO officer and bring together a new team of Australian Federal Police investigators and representatives from AUSTRAC, the Australian Signals Directorate and the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organisation. The Office of National Intelligence will also support the taskforce.”

The list

“For Australia, the story of the 21st century so far divides into two disjointed decades: a charmed period of affluent complacency followed by a rolling crisis of identity. The question of who we are becoming as a people, and what sort of country we want to be in an Asian century, could be ducked in that first decade while our local demography, and the American-based international order, was still tinted white. As we close the second decade, the question of national purpose can no longer be avoided.”

“Security sources say Wang Liqiang’s decision to launch his bid for asylum in the pages of the Nine newspapers and on current affairs program 60 Minutes has elevated the already high levels of caution among those assessing the veracity of his claims.”

“Who does it suit for Labor and the Greens to keep blaming each other for the failure of Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation in 2009–10? The Coalition, of course. The major-party line has been that nothing the Greens say about climate change can be taken seriously because they voted against the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Let’s unpick that argument a bit – nobody else is going to do it.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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