” Senate chaos”: now Turnbull has an excuse for inaction

The government will delay presenting key industrial relations bills to the Senate until it thinks it has the numbers, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Thursday.

“We will present them to the Senate when we believe there is a majority that will support it and… we will continue talking to the crossbench towards that end and that has been ever thus. There is no change there,” said the PM.


There is also doubt over enabling legislation for the same-sex marriage plebiscite, appropriation bills as well as changes to the backbacker tax and other measures.

The PM has accused Labor of showing contempt for the election outcome in obstructing the “very important” bills.

It’s an interesting perspective that responsibility for Coalition policy not progressing through the Senate is now the responsibility of the Labor Party.  The idea that the Opposition should support the installation of the Government because of the government’s “mandate” ignores the responsibility that the Opposition has to its own supporters who presumably do not support the legislation.

With the departure of Bob Day and Rod Culleton, the government now needs the support of 8/9 of the cross bench to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens. Clearly, Turnbull suspects that he is not likely to get that at present.


Bob Day and Rod Culleton: gone and soon to be forgotten

But what of the future? There is a possibility that following the appointment of two replacement senators this situation may not change. It’s a difficult situation for Turnbull and he doesn’t seem to have many ideas about how to resolve it.

Turnbull’s ill-fated reforms of the Senate voting system have really come round to bite him on the bum.  Any reasonably deep thinker about the nature of the voting system would have realised that the changes were going to increase the political diversity  of the members of the Senate, to say nothing of the greater democratic representation.

But no one would have suspected that in electing independent and minor party representatives that the political process would not be subject to the ineptitude of two of these groups in the selection of their candidates.

But John Hewson, ex-Liberal opposition leader and now professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU would see the inertia of the Abbott/ Turnbull government in a different light, a fundamental failure to change from being in opposition to a government.

Hewson has written:

“a distinguishing feature of the last several governments has been their unreadiness for government, not only lacking a well developed and deliverable policy agenda or strategy, but in being unable to transition from the ways of opposition.

Abbott’s whole approach (was) … very much still focused on scoring points on the other side, with early policy responses from Gonski to the Audit Commission to his ill-fated first budget to his attack on renewable energy, sporadic and reactive, obviously without any overarching policy framework or strategy.


 John Hewson looks on in amazement

Similarly, Turnbull….is still mostly running a short-term, opportunistic political strategy designed to wedge or simply score media points against the Shorten opposition.”

Hewson cites three examples as failures to increase long-term structural issues

  1. The  inadequacy of the omnibus bill two effect budget repair
  2. The attack on Labor states over their renewable energy targets as a response to the South Australian power blackout
  3. The attempt to impose a life-time visa ban on asylum seekers

He also cites:

  1.  Failure to push for a sustainable regional solution the refugee problem
  2.  Failure to to demonstrate how they will achieve the 2020 target emission targets of 23.5 per cent
  3.  Failure to  plan for the national target approaching 60 per cent  reduction in emissions by 2030 if Australia is to meet the Paris target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by then.

This is probably quite a bit of truth in both perspectives. By a series of unfortunate accidents, we now have a Senate that is making government in the more traditional sense far more difficult and which has created a political situation that the current government appears to have no useful strategy for managing.

On top of this, we also have a government that appears to be frozen in the glaring headlights of the right wing of its parliamentary party and appears to lack the political will and leadership to govern effectively.

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