Malcolm Turnbull could not contain his delight at securing an industrial relations win in the Senate during what is otherwise shaping up to be another disastrous week for the Prime Minister.
Fresh back from the APEC Summit in Peru, Mr Turnbull held audience with the media on Tuesday afternoon to welcome the passage of the Registered Organisations Bill, which was one of the triggers for this year’s double dissolution election.
A jubilant Prime Minister said the marathon Senate session late on Monday night resulted in a win for the nation.
“It is perfectly clear that if you reduce the potential for corruption and abuse and malfeasance, that is a benefit to the economy,” he said.
But the victory, which was the lesser of the two election triggers – the return of the building and construction watchdog is yet to pass – has been largely overshadowed by internal government division and continuing ministerial gaffes.
The same Senate sitting saw Mr Turnbull embarrassed by his own side when three Nationals cabinet ministers – Fiona Nash, Nigel Scullion and Matt Canavan – went missing from a controversial vote to lift the import ban on the controversial Adler shotgun.
The Nationals want the ban lifted, but the government’s position is to extend it.
Two Nationals senators – John Williams and Bridget McKenzie – crossed the floor to vote against their own government and back crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm’s bill to lift it.
The bill was defeated but the move left the government open to accusations of disunity.
Senator Leyonhjelm insists the Prime Minister had been willing to negotiate over the Adler ban in return for his vote on the IR bills, and says the three Nationals ministers subsequently abstained from the Adler vote in protest.
Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said he “absolutely supports” his colleagues’ decision to vote against their own government.
“We are our own party, the National Party is its own party, the Liberal Party is its own party. I’m proud of that culture in our party.”
But Labor seized on the vote, describing it as split in government ranks and even among cabinet ministers.
The opposition rained on the government’s parade during parliamentary Question Time on Tuesday and tried to shut down proceedings because the Prime Minister has lost control of his team.
“Has the Prime Minister disciplined the three cabinet ministers who took the unprecedented disloyal step of failing to vote for the cabinet position?” asked Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
“Isn’t it clear this prime minister is so weak, his government is so divided, he cannot even keep his cabinet in line?”
The move took the shine off the government’s industrial relations win, but so too did Attorney-General George Brandis who, after being caught on tape describing the Queensland Liberal Nationals Party as “mediocre”, tried to tell the Senate he was referring to the Queensland Labor government.
Labor made merry with that in the Senate and even quoted an LNP source saying “London can’t come soon enough” in reference to speculation the Prime Minister wants to exile Senator Brandis to the London High Commission just to get rid of him from the frontbench.
Another frontbencher causing Mr Turnbull grief is Immigration Minister Peter Dutton who insists on defending his attack on former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser’s refugee policy.
Mr Dutton says it was a mistake bringing Lebanese refugees to Australia in the 1970s.
“The advice I have is that out of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 of those people are from second- and third-generation Lebanese-Muslim background,” he said in Parliament on Tuesday.
His attack has outraged the Lebanese community, the opposition and even caused division within government ranks.
Mr Turnbull is standing by his embattled Immigration Minister.
Meanwhile, political advisers and staffers are bringing to light unfair changes to pay and working conditions, and embarrassing the government further over what they say is a dud deal.
He is not showing it, but the PM may well be wishing he stayed in Peru a little longer.