Opposition Leader Bill Shorten continues to get the jump on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with another day in Parliament revealing superior tactics from Labor.
While the government was preparing to announce on Tuesday that it had reached agreement with the Opposition over the omnibus bill to save $6.3 billion, Labor was already out taking credit for it.
Appearing in front of the Australian flag, Mr Shorten made every attempt to look prime ministerial while confirming a compromise had been reached over the budget legislation.
“This is a better, stronger and fairer set of measures, because of Labor’s constructive approach,” he said.
This left Mr Turnbull to front the media some time later to put his spin on the new package, denying that the compromise meant his government’s mandate had been weakened.
But both sides agreed they had negotiated in good faith and reached a way forward, after Treasurer Scott Morrison and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann spent days in discussions with Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen and Shadow Finance Minister Jim Chalmers.
Mr Turnbull described it as “frank, constructive negotiations”.
The government was distracted by continued infighting over the same-sex marriage plebiscite.
Attorney-General George Brandis revealed details of the plebiscite immediately following Mr Turnbull’s appearance, confirming the date for February 11.
It will be a compulsory vote requiring a simple majority, with $7.5 million of campaign funding to be given to each camp – yes and no.
He said the Opposition Leader was playing politics over the issue by insisting on a parliamentary vote instead of a plebiscite.
“I call on Bill Shorten to get out of the way, to allow the plebiscite bill passage through the Senate, to allow the Australian people to have their say and, importantly, in the event that there is a yes vote in the plebiscite to allow there to be marriage equality in Australia by early next year,” Senator Brandis said.
Yet one of the government’s own senators, WA Liberal Dean Smith, who is openly gay, said he would not be voting for the plebiscite’s enabling legislation.
Describing it as “abhorrent”, Senator Smith said it should be an issue decided by the Parliament.
In Question Time, the Coalition hoped to keep alive the Sam Dastyari Chinese cash for comment scandal, but Labor doggedly kept the focus on marriage equality.
In a ploy not used since Kim Beazley was Labor leader a decade ago, the opposition embarrassed the government further by asking itself a question.
Queensland MP Terri Butler sacrificed an opportunity to further grill a government minister, instead asking Mr Shorten to report on the progress of his private member’s bill aimed at enshrining marriage equality in law.
This allowed the Opposition Leader to take another swipe at the Prime Minister.
“We should be debating our private member’s bill during government business because it is the fastest way to achieve marriage equality,” Mr Shorten said.
“We should be debating our private member’s bill during government business because it is the cheapest way to achieve marriage equality.
“And we should be debating our private member’s bill during government business because it is the least harmful and divisive way to achieve marriage equality.
“I call upon the Prime Minister to go back to the views that he once cherished and vote with us to allow the private member’s bill in making marriage equality a reality for once and for all.”
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.