Hold on tight, there’s only one week of federal parliamentary sittings left for the year and it promises to be a doozy.
After what could only be described as Malcolm Turnbull’s annus horribilis the Prime Minister has had a couple of wins in the past week.
Amid much huffing and puffing by the colourful characters that make up our democratically elected parliament, the Turnbull Government succeeded in getting a number of important laws passed by the Senate.
These included changes to the superannuation system and the establishment of a Registered Organisations Commission to ensure union officials are held to the same regulatory standards as company directors.
The reforms build on other Coalition policies implemented since the election, such as changes to paid parental leave and protections for volunteer firefighters.
The Senate also decided this week to continue a freeze on the importation of the Adler shotgun, although Nationals ministers abstained from the vote while three Nat backbench senators voted against their Government colleagues on the freeze.
This dissent was mostly symbolic asit made no difference to the outcome, but was nevertheless important as it gave the Nationals MPs the semblance of standing up to their city counterparts. It is yet to be seen whether they’ddo the same if it meant the actual defeat of Government legislation.
Next week Mr Turnbull will try to get the building union watchdog, the ABCC, re-established with the help of the conservative and moderate politicians who now make up the senate crossbench.
Given this year’s double dissolution election was ostensibly held because of the previous Senate’s refusal to support establishment of the Registered Organisations Commission and ABCC, passage of the ABCC will be an important victory for the PM.
And passage of the bills with having to resort to a joint sitting of the Parliament will vindicate his decision to call the election, even though the DD produced a larger senate crossbench than before.
Labor and the Greens, both dependent on financial support from the unions, will oppose the move leaving the Government to rely again on the votes of union-agnostic senators on the crossbench.
For their part, the Greens have shown they’re willing to take a leaf from Labor’s playbook and run interference on the issue. On Friday the minor party announced it would try to amend the proposed law to require that Australian workers and locally-sourced materials be favoured in any government construction project.
This is a pretty cynical move by the Greens; even if the amendment was successful they would still oppose the proposal.
But the Greens hope to cause grief for the protectionists on the crossbench such as Pauline Hanson, Nick Xenophon and Jackie Lambie by forcing them to be seen to be choosing between support for the Government or the local content requirement. Labor used a similar wedging ploy against the Greens earlier this year.
There is also the backpackers’ tax to be resolved. This is necessary after Jacqui Lambie upended the Government’s plans this week by aligning with Labor to reduce the income tax paid by foreign holiday-makers working as casual labour on farms from the proposed 19 per cent to 10.5 per cent.
To date Labor has managed to navigate the fine line between demonising skilled foreign workers on 457 visas for taking our jobs while arguing that we should collect less income tax from unskilled foreign workers on holiday visas so they’ll be more willing to take our jobs.
We can expect even more petty manoeuvres like this next week, when the parties try to make enough of an impression on voters to ensure that we emerge from the long summer break in February with at least a residual memory of who’s on their game and who’s hopeless.
The end of next week can’t come soon enough.