The Turnbull government remains tight-lipped about splitting its childcare and welfare savings package in a bid to achieve a pre-budget win.
Pressure has been mounting on the coalition to divide an omnibus bill that bundles a raft of welfare cuts with childcare subsidy changes.
The government has proposed 16 welfare cuts, including a reduction to family tax benefits, in a bid to save billions of dollars that would be redirected to childcare subsidies and disability funding.
But it’s struggling to convince the Senate crossbench, with Pauline Hanson, her One Nation senators and other independents opposed to the measures.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday used a visit to a childcare centre in suburban Canberra to up the pressure.
“The important thing is, for the sake of these little kids and their parents and many others like them, that these reforms are passed,” he told reporters.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham says the government is continuing constructive discussions with all parties about how to get the childcare changes through parliament, and how to pay for them.
“We’ll keep our negotiations private between the different senators and parties we’ve been talking to until we bring them finally to the floor of the Senate,” he told ABC radio.
He cited passage of workplace laws after the July 2016 election as evidence the government could work with other parties to secure legislation.
Labor and the Australian Greens oppose the family payment cuts but are more supportive of the childcare changes.
Senator Hanson has said the family payments cuts are too broad and too deep, and is urging the government to turn its attention to tax-dodging multinational corporations.
“The coalition needs to realise that before those with the least are asked to tighten their belts, those multinationals with the most need to start paying their way,” Senator Hanson said in a statement.
Splitting the legislation has done little to impress key crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie, who says the childcare changes do not go far enough.
Senator Lambie is dubious about the benefits of giving families more cash for child care, while taking money from them elsewhere.
“I have to ask, is that going to stop costs from going up? Honestly, if you’re going to give more subsidy to families, what have they done to stop these costs from continuing to go up?” she told ABC radio.
Welfare groups have warned of the impact if vulnerable Australians are forced to absorb $5.6 billion in social security cuts.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the opposition should take a more responsible approach to budget debates.
“Everyone talks about the crossbenchers but there is actually the Labor Party,” he told ABC radio.
“If they want to show people they’re an alternative government, they’ve actually got to be part and parcel of responsible decisions to try to get our budget back under control.”
Bill Shorten said the opposition would never give up its defence of family payments and pensioners.
“This is a government who is too stupid to know when they’re beat sometimes,” the Labor leader told reporters outside Parliament House.
“I hope that victory is in sight, that the government splits the bill and does what Labor said should happen all along.”
The Senate is planning to sit longer than usual on Wednesday and Thursday in anticipation of new legislation.
Labor Senate leader Penny Wong criticised the crossbenchers for agreeing to debate a bill MPs hadn’t even seen.
“Come into the Senate, up-end standing orders, up-end the order of business and say to the Labor Party, ‘we want you to debate a bill that you haven’t even seen’,” she railed against the government.
“That’s a secret deal to take money off Australian families.”