While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was being undermined from factions both outside and within his own party, Bill Shorten was having his own problems on the second day of Parliament on Wednesday.
Hardline conservative backbenchers continue to thwart Mr Turnbull’s efforts to stamp his authority as a newly elected Prime Minister, defying him in the Senate over the Racial Discrimination Act just minutes after he said it would not be relaxed.
Opposition Leader Mr Shorten’s attack on the government over the issue was completely overshadowed by revelations Labor senator Sam Dastyari had allowed a company with links to the Chinese government to cough up $1670.82 so he could get on top of his office bills.
Sydney-based Top Education – whose principal is Minshen Zhu, a friend of the most senior Chinese government officials – made the payment when the senator’s travel budget had blown out.
Senator Dastyari, who has been a vocal campaigner against corporate corruption, apologised to the Senate after the payment became public knowledge.
He said on reflection he should not have let the company pay his debt.
“I take full responsibility and have donated that amount to charity,” Senator Dastyari said.
But the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, which received the donation on Wednesday morning, returned it so as not to appear compromised.
Senator Cory Bernardi has called for Senator Dastyari to be sacked.
“He hasn’t detailed how it came to pass that a company with strong links to a foreign country has paid his personal obligations to the Commonwealth,” Senator Bernardi said.
Even some inside the Labor Party are stunned at Senator Dastyari’s actions.
“How do you even have that conversation with a constituent?” one Labor source who asked to remain anonymous said.
“How did he even say ‘hey, I’ve spent too much on travel so can you pay my bill please?’. It’s ludicrous.”
Another Labor source said Senator Dastyari was carelessly undermining Mr Shorten.
“These things distract from the ability of the leader to pursue a case on things like corrupt banking,” the contact said.
The Opposition Leader failed to land any real punches on the Prime Minister during the first Question Time of the 45th Parliament.
During one exchange across the chamber in the Lower House, Treasurer Scott Morrison enthusiastically taunted Mr Shorten.
“This is the Prime Minister who just won an election,” he said, pointing to Mr Turnbull.
“We’ve seen the Leader of the Opposition parade around this country as if he’s just won an election.
“Well, I’ve got news for you. When the whistle has blown, and you’re on the wrong side of the scoreboard, when you’re on the wrong side of this House, you lost the election, buddy.”
No easy ride for the PM
Almost immediately after Mr Turnbull ruled out changes to section 18C of the Act, two Coalition backbenchers rose in Senate to talk about the need to water it down.
Senators Ian MacDonald and Chris Back embarrassed the PM by extolling the virtues of outspoken Senator Bernardi’s push to remove the words “insult” and “offend” from the Act.
A notice of motion to that effect has been placed with expectation it will be debated in the Senate on Thursday.
The contributions led leader of the opposition in the Senate Penny Wong to tweet: “PM’s authority in shreds.”
PM's authority in shreds. Minutes after Turnbull rules out changes to 18C, Macdonald takes to Senate floor to defy him.
— Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) August 31, 2016
Mr Turnbull could also be facing his first defeat on the floor of the Senate on Thursday over Labor’s call for a royal commission into banking.
Labor lost the vote in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
But on a similar motion put up for debate in the Senate, an amendment sought by elements of the Coalition to widen the inquiry could in fact give them an out.
Chris Johnson is a Walkley Award-winning journalist who has spent the past decade working in the Canberra Press Gallery, most recently as the bureau chief for Fairfax Media. He is now a Political Correspondent for The New Daily.