News National Fog of Senate chaos envelopes the Turnbull government

Fog of Senate chaos envelopes the Turnbull government

David Leyonhjelm
Senator David Leyonhjelm wanted to lift an import ban on the controversial shotgun. Photo: AAP Photo: AAP
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The same sex marriage plebiscite has been killed off in the Senate and the political focus has already moved on to other battles proving even more difficult for Malcolm Turnbull.

The Prime Minister is reluctant to put the two union-busting bills into the senate until he is confident he has the numbers and critical to that will be winning over eight out of ten on the crossbench.

One senator, David Leyonhjelm, is playing very hard to get.

Senator Leyonhjelm says sending the anti-discrimination act with the free speech nobbling Section 18 c off to an inquiry isn’t good enough.

He wants an “offset” if he agrees to legislation that reduces the liberty of unionists in the Australian Building and Construction Commission bill. He want greater liberty somewhere else.

He bluntly says, “All I’m doing is I’ve got them by the balls and I’m squeezing, that’s not holding them to ransom.”

The fog of chaos

It doesn’t help that there is a fog of chaos enveloping the government that simply refuses to lift.

The Prime Minister was forced to bat off Opposition claims that he and the government had in engaged in a political cover-up over Family First senator Bob Day’s eligibility to run for parliament at the July election.

The record shows concerns were expressed by the Finance Department and its advice ignored back in 2014. Day wanted to have his senatorial office in a building he owned.

Section 44 of the Constitution disqualifies anyone from having “any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the public service of the Commonwealth.”

Labor supported referring the issue to the High Court, but its senate leader, Penny Wong, says the alarm bells should have rung before the election.

Who knew what and when,” needs further explanation, she told the senate.

“This is a mess entirely of the government’s making,” she said.

That elicited a detailed defence from the new Minister of State Scott Ryan.

Penny Wong fears a plebiscite would unleash hate speech. Photo: Getty.
Penny Wong says there are questions to be answered over Bob Day. Photo: Getty

Mr Ryan has the great advantage of acting as soon as the mess was drawn to his attention. He quickly terminated the arrangement with Day when he wanted the Commonwealth to start paying rent.

Everyone else claims to have been in the dark. The minister who gave the arrangement green light, Michael Ronaldson, has conveniently left the parliament.

Skulduggery accusations

The other senator with an eligibility cloud hanging over him, One Nation’s Rod Culleton, was less forgiving of Attorney-General George Brandis.

Mr Culleton accused Mr Brandis of skulduggery and trying to grab his seat, urging the Senate not to support the Attorney-General in referring his case to the High Court.

Not even his own Leader, Pauline Hanson, agreed with that. She suspects Mr Culleton misled her when he nominated to run for the party when he failed to mention in his declaration he was being prosecuted for larceny.

The outspoken Bob Katter offered unswerving support, saying Mr Culleton is “one of our greatest fighters against the banks” who is being “tortured “ by the Liberal Party.

Worryingly for the government, Mr Culleton, on the Clerk of The Senate’s advice, will now participate in all Senate votes pending the High Court’s decision.

Mr Katter says the One Nation senator is not a strident critic of the trade union movement. He is highly likely to break ranks with his three One Nation senate colleagues and vote against the ABCC.

Bob Katter announced his support of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition in forming a government on Thursday. Photo: AAP
Bob Katter is firm in his support of Rod Culleton, even if Pauline Hanson isn’t. Photo: AAP


While that works its way through the mire, Mr Turnbull’s attempt to wedge Labor over border security is falling flat.

Legislation installing a permanent ban on all visas for any adult now on Manus Island and Nauru who came by boat after June 2013 is sure to be rejected by Labor.

Turnbull’s efforts to conflate “no permanent settlement” – something Labor supports, with not being able to visit even in forty years times is too ludicrous to sustain.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He tweets  at @PaulBongiorno

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