Morrison’s $158 billion tax plan set to sail through Senate after deals with crossbenchers


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government will finish the first week of the new parliament with its election centrepiece – the $158 billion, three-stage tax package – passed into law.

The first stage of the tax relief – in the form of an offset for low- and middle-income earners when people submit their returns – will be available as soon as the Tax Office makes the necessary arrangements over the next few days. Getting the legislation through this week means there is only minimal slippage from the July 1 start date that was promised in the budget.

The numbers fell into place with Tasmanian crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie declaring she would vote for the package. She had negotiated with the government on her demand that it forgive the $157 million social housing debt her state owes the Commonwealth. This would save Tasmania $15 million a year, which Lambie wants used to deal with issues of homelessness and social housing.

Lambie said: “The good will is there and they know that we’ve got housing problems down there.”




Read more:
View from The Hill: Jacqui Lambie plays the Harradine game


While Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who had said there would be no horse-trading over the package, was publicly coy about the deal, Lambie is confident it will be delivered.

She said some details still had to be sorted out.

What I don’t want to be doing is rushing out saying here’s the money and that’s it. We want to make sure that that money is targeted […] we’re still dealing on good faith. And I look very forward to that over the next four to six weeks.

Cormann told Sky News: “Senator Lambie has been a very forceful advocate.

She has raised issues with us. We are very happy to work through these issues with her. When we are in a position to make further announcements down the track we will.




Read more:
Stages 1 and 2 of the tax cuts should pass. But Stage 3 would return us to the 1950s


The other crossbench votes needed for the package come from independent Cory Bernardi and the two Centre Alliance senators.

Centre Alliance extracted a deal over action on gas prices.

It said in a Thursday statement that it had “worked with the government on both short- and long-term reforms to deal with gas market concerns.”

The government would announce the full package in coming weeks, it said.

It would include

changes to the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism (ADGSM) to deal with current pricing, market transparency measures, measures to deal with the monopoly nature of East Coast gas pipelines and longer term measures to ensure future gas projects deliver surplus supply to the Australian market.

The gas agreement, canvassed publicly in recent days, has caused some blow-back from the industry.

Faced with the inevitability of the tax package passing, Labor said it would continue to pursue its attempt to split the package and then consider its options.

It is likely not to oppose in the final vote.




Read more:
Lambie’s vote key if government wants to have medevac repealed


Eyes are now on Lambie’s position on the government’s bid to repeal the medevac act. Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton on Thursday introduced legislation for the repeal. Lambie said she was still making up her mind on how she will vote when the legislation arrives in the Senate. She is set to be the crucial vote.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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View from the Hill: Shorten’s victory will bring dangerous counter strikes from a desperate government


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An extraordinary amount of hype and some confected hysteria preceded Tuesday’s vote on the medical transfer legislation.

The government threw everything at trying to avoid a defeat. In a last stand, it fell back on a constitutional argument – backed by
Solicitor-General advice – that carried no practical weight and was simply circumvented by the majority that passed the bill in the House of Representatives.




Read more:
Crossbenchers must decide between something or nothing on medical transfers bill


While the government frantically attempted to thwart Labor and the crossbench, Scott Morrison also ran the line that he wasn’t that fussed. Afterwards he told a news conference: “Votes will come and votes will go, they do not trouble me.” That claim wouldn’t pass a fact check.

This was a big vote, and everyone knew it. Morrison operates a
minority government and Tuesday’s loss underscored that he can’t
automatically get his way. (Ironically, in the last days of Turnbull’s majority government, the threat of losing a House vote came from internal dissidents.)




Read more:
The government was defeated on the ‘medevac’ bill, but that does not mean the end of the government


The next test for Morrison will be on whether the House agrees to
extra sitting days to discuss the measures from the banking royal
commission. For procedural reasons, this needs 76 votes, one more than the 75 required on the medical transfer bill. The government has been leaning heavily on Bob Katter, the crossbencher who will be the key.

While the government looked rattled as the votes on the medical
transfer bill proceeded, Labor was calm and steely.

For all the talk about Labor’s misjudgement on the issue, this week it has moved cautiously and methodically.

Originally pushed by the crossbench into taking a stand on
humanitarian grounds – the bill is based on a proposal from
independent Kerryn Phelps – Labor has sought to display compassion but contain the political risk.

Bill Shorten, knowing the danger, decided the version of the bill
coming from the Senate (which Labor had supported there) left the ALP too exposed. He flagged last week he’d like a “middle” course.

So the opposition came up with amendments to give the minister wider discretion and more time in making decisions, and to limit the application of the legislation to those on Nauru and Manus now. The latter change was to minimise the “pull” factor – the extent to which the new arrangement would encourage the people smugglers.

Then it was a matter of persuading the required six crossbenchers.
They accepted in the negotiations that a modified bill was better than nothing (though there was some Greens cavilling).

In the House, the ALP troops were kept carefully in check; the emotion was turned down; the speeches from the bill’s supporters were few and brief. Labor just wanted one thing in the chamber – a win. This wasn’t the time to grandstand.

The government, wounded and worried, is seeing this as one (albeit
major) battle in the long war to the election. Its spruikers will say that in defeat it has had a victory – that Labor has given the
Coalition ammunition for the campaign.

It’s true the bill has breathed new life into the border security
debate, but whether this will be enough to do Labor serious harm is an open question. `

The ALP is always vulnerable on boats. On the other hand, boats are lower in voters’ minds than they used to be.

The government will turn up the dial by announcing “contingency plans” against fresh arrivals. Morrison, having accused Shorten of
undermining offshore processing, is already moving on to the claim that he couldn’t be trusted to be strong on turnbacks.

Goodness knows how the politics would play out if a boat appeared on the horizon in the next few weeks. You can be sure, however, that the government would be quick to tell us about it, and point the finger at Shorten.

In all this, the bill itself (which has to go back to the Senate for a tick off on the amendments) should be kept in perspective.

The minister has a veto on “security” grounds, including being able to exclude anyone who has committed a major crime. The composition of the medical panel which would have the final say on other transfers is broad and balanced.

Probably, over a period, there would be a lot of transfers out of the 1000 people offshore. But there have already been nearly 900 (some after legal action). These transfers have amounted to a backdoor route into Australia.

If the legislation in the longer term opens that door a little wider, it will also be a way of “settling” people in Australia without acknowledging that is being done.

More of the same? Or a radical change? It depends how you look at it.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Crossbench women give Morrison a break after week from hell


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Many voters mightn’t thank Scott Morrison for confirming he plans to
run the election date out to May. Given Canberra politics is so
dysfunctional, it feels like prolonging the agony.

With the widespread assumption that the Coalition can’t recover, the
early months of 2019 will be something of a hiatus – various
stakeholders will put decisions on hold because they expect a change of
government.

Morrison’s strategy is clear. Play on the best thing he has going for
him – a strong economy, which is flowing through to government
revenue. Release a budget update on December 17 that shows a healthy
bottom line, and probably contains some substantive decisions. Then
the April 2 budget can be loaded with voter bait, and contain the long-awaited surplus, opening the way for the poll on May 11 or 18.

The budget update will come out during the ALP’s national conference.
Usually the Coalition would have avoided a clash, expecting that
conference, which determines a supposedly-binding platform, would see
Labor divisions on display.

But while issues like refugees, Palestine, industrial relations and
trade may stir vigorous debate, the Liberals know they won’t get much
grist for their purposes. As one Labor man says, the “government”
faction at the conference will be large – those with eyes firmly on
seeing Bill Shorten reach The Lodge.

By setting out his timetable this week, Morrison has given away the
option of a March poll. Unwise to abandon the flexibility, one might say. But March had always been unpopular with the Feds because they didn’t want to be the first government on whom NSW voters vent their rage (the
state election is late March).

Morrison is no doubt also operating on the basis that the longer he
waits the greater the possibility of something turning up.

The government hopes that with maximum time it can turn the political
debate onto the economic argument, as well as looking to its fear
campaign against Labor to have more impact.

But governments can’t rely on being rewarded for favourable numbers. Voters expect them to deliver on the economy. Even with a bright macro
picture, they are out of sorts because of low wage growth, cost of
living pressures and the general disgruntlement that permeates the
modern electorate.

Making the budget the election launch pad has its risks. The 2016
precedent is not encouraging, even if Turnbull’s bad campaigning has
to take a good deal of blame. A budget can contain unanticipated land
mines, and it is awkward if they explode during the campaign – which
of course next time will be much shorter than Turnbull’s marathon.




Read more:
Liberal Julia Banks defects to crossbench as Scott Morrison confirms election in May


Now in minority government, the Coalition is minimising its
parliamentary exposure, proposing only some 10 days of sitting next year
before the election. When the houses aren’t in session the Senate
can’t cause trouble and the newly-empowered lower house crossbenchers
lose their clout.

But the Senate this week made sure that it will have time for estimate
committees to scrutinise (albeit briefly) budget measures, by voting
to alter the sitting timetable. Labor recalls that just before the
2016 election it extracted, via the estimates process, the long term costing for the government’s company tax cut plan.

With the arrival of Kerryn Phelps in parliament on Monday, and then
Tuesday’s defection of Julia Banks, the House of Representatives crossbench has become the centre of attention. We’re yet to see just what tangible results this will produce for Labor or for the crossbenchers themselves.

Labor is trying to muster the numbers to refer Home Affairs Minister
Peter Dutton’s eligibility to the High Court but hasn’t locked them in
so far. Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie on Thursday suggested he’d
like to see several referrals together.

The crossbenchers have agendas, including the push for an
anti-corruption body and Phelps’ bill facilitating medical transfers
from Nauru and Manus Island. It’s a matter of what they can “land”
with the opportunities and time available.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Day One of minority government sees battle over national integrity commission


Government legislation such as that giving itself the power to break
up recalcitrant energy companies (to be introduced next week) will
both test the House crossbenchers and give them openings to pursue
their issues.

When on Thursday Labor tried to suspend standing orders to move a
motion condemning the government on multiple fronts, the crossbenchers
went in all directions.

Wilkie and the Greens’ Adam Bandt supported Labor; Bob Katter voted
with the government; the women – Cathy McGowan, Rebekha Sharkie,
Phelps and Banks – abstained. The vote was lost 66-68.

Within the expanded crossbench, the four women have formed a defacto
mutually-supportive subgroup. Phelps has confirmed she counselled
Banks before she defected. “Julia reached out to me for some consultation about what that process might look and feel like, and I indicated that I would be there to support her in that transition,” Phelps said.

While the Liberals are losing out politically because of their low female representation and their inability to properly address that problem, on the House crossbench the women are now standouts (and a majority).

On Thursday they came to Morrison’s rescue. If three of the four had
voted with the opposition, the Labor motion would have received a
simple majority.

It would not have achieved the absolute majority needed to suspend
standing orders, but losing on the straight numbers would have been
very embarrassing for the Prime Minister, a symbol of his government’s
new, diminished status.

Sharkie later explained that “we abstain on what we see as party
political games”, though adding that she wasn’t disputing there were
facts in some of the points in the motion.

Labor believed the four had missed an opportunity to deliver a soft
blow to the government. Looked at another way, the women may have
banked some credit with the government for other things.

As he left for his weekend at the G20 in Argentina, the action – or
inaction – of the four female crossbenchers gave Morrison a small
salve to apply to the black eye he received earlier in the week from
one of their number.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Liberal Julia Banks defects to crossbench as Scott Morrison confirms election in May


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has been delivered a fresh major blow with the defection of Victorian backbencher Julia Banks to the crossbench, delivering a swingeing attack on the right of the Liberal party.

In an emotional speech, Banks told parliament she had had time to reflect on “the brutal blow against the leadership, led by members of the reactionary right wing.”

While she pledged to give the government confidence and supply, her defection has highlighted again the deep divisions within the government, and reopened wounds over the August leadership coup that ousted Malcolm Turnbull and saw then-deputy leader and foreign minister Julie Bishop go to the backbench.

It will give even more muscle to the newly-empowered crossbench. It has also increased the chances of Labor mustering the numbers to refer Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to the High Court to determine whether he is sitting in parliament in breach of section 44 of the Constitution.

Banks, who spoke at midday, did not inform the party room beforehand, government sources said.

As she was delivering her speech to the House of Representatives, Scott Morrison was holding a news conference at which he announced the budget will be on April 2, and confirmed the election will be in May, the latest the government can run.

In a further sign of disunity, Bishop has undermined the government on the crucial area of energy policy, saying it should do a deal with Labor on a National Energy Guarantee.

The defection of Banks, who at the time of the leadership coup called out bullying within the Liberal party, comes a day after the Coalition formally went into minority government in the House, with the swearing in of independent Kerryn Phelps.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Day One of minority government sees battle over national integrity commission


With the loss of Banks the government has 73 on the floor of the House. This excludes the Speaker, Tony Smith, who has a casting vote. A simple majority is 75, but 76 votes are needed to suspend standing orders. Labor has 69. There will now be seven crossbenchers.

Ever since the coup, it has been thought Banks might jump ship to the crossbench.

Banks, who won the marginal Melbourne seat of Chisholm for the Liberals from Labor in 2016, did not rule out running as an independent at the election, saying she would look at her options in the new year.

Praising Turnbull and Bishop as “visionary inspiring leaders of sensible centrist liberal values with integrity and intellect”, she told the House: “The gift of time in reflection has provided some clarity regarding the brutal blow against the leadership. Led by members of the reactionary right wing, the coup was aided by many MPs trading their vote for a leadership change in exchange for the individual promotion, preselection endorsements or silence.

“Their actions were undeniably for themselves, for their position in the party, their power, their personal ambition, not for the Australian people who we represent, not for what people voted for in the 2016 election, not for stability, and disregarding that teamwork and unity delivers success,” she said.

“The aftermath of those dark days in August then acutely laid bare the major parties’ obstructionist and competitive actions and internal games, or political point-scoring, rather than for timely, practical, sensible decisions on matters which Australians care about.”

Banks said equal representation of men and women in parliament was “an urgent imperative, which will create a culture change.” She called the Liberals’ rejection of quotas “blinkered”.

She said an independent whistleblower system to enable the reporting of misconduct was clearly needed. “Often, when good women call out or are subjected to bad behaviour, the reprisals, backlash and commentary portrays them as the bad ones.”

Banks said her “sensible centrist values, belief in economic responsibility and focus on always putting the people first and acting in the nation’s interest have not changed.

“The Liberal Party has changed. Largely due to the actions of the reactionary and regressive right wing who talk about and to themselves rather than listening to the people.”

Banks said the three female independents, Phelps, Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie, “are at the core of what I stand for”.

Her attack comes a day after Senate president Scott Ryan also lashed out at the right, saying Liberal voters who had deserted the party in the Victorian election had sent the party a message. “They don’t want views rammed down their throat, and they don’t want to ram their views down other people’s throat.”




Read more:
Senate president Scott Ryan launches grenade against the right


Bishop has told the Australian Financial Review: “The government needs to consider energy policy through the prism of securing bipartisan agreement with Labor, to establish a long-term, stable regulatory framework that will support private-sector investment in generating capacity.”

Only the NEG could achieve “elusive” bipartisanship, she said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shorten would need non-Green crossbench to pass bills in Senate: Australia Institute


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A Labor government would likely have to rely on at least one Senate
crossbencher besides the Greens to pass contested legislation, according to an analysis from The Australia Institute, a progressive think tank.

The analysis, based in part on polling but also on
historical data, suggests that, at best, after next year’s half-Senate
election the ALP and Greens combined could have 38 senators – although more likely they would have 37.

To pass legislation, 39 votes are needed.

Releasing the analysis, the institute’s director, Ben Oquist, said this
meant “the Centre Alliance, or independents like Derryn Hinch or a
potentially re-elected Jacqui Lambie, are likely to wield significant
power”.

The 2016 double dissolution produced a very large crossbench. The
larger quota required in a half-Senate election will make it harder
for micro parties and independents, as will some changes to the
electoral system made in 2016.

Most of the non-Green crossbenchers face election – and defeat.
Victorian senator Derryn Hinch, from the Justice Party, told The
Conversation’s podcast that he had got about 220,000 primary votes
last time but now would need about 400,000. It would be “very tough”,
said Hinch, who is campaigning on the slogan “unfinished business”.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Derryn Hinch on a national ICAC and the Victorian election


The Australia Institute says the Coalition and Labor are each likely
to pick up two seats in each state. The Greens are “well-placed” to
win a seat in each of NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and
Tasmania, while One Nation is well-placed to win in Queensland.

“The remaining seat in NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania,
and the remaining two seats in South Australia, are likely to be
highly contested,” the analysis says.

In detail, it says

…NSW – The Coalition, Labor and One Nation are competitive for the last seat.

… Victoria – Labor, the Coalition and Derryn Hinch are competitive for
the final seat.

…Western Australia – The Coalition and One Nation are competitive
for the last seat.

… South Australia – The Coalition, Greens, Centre Alliance and One
Nation are competitive for the final two seats.

… Tasmania – The Coalition and Lambie are competitive for the last seat.

“The polling by itself does not suggest that the Coalition will pick
up the third seat in any state, but our historical analysis suggests
that the Coalition is more competitive than the polls alone would
indicate”, the Australia Institute says.

“Another wild card is the high Independent/Other polling. Although
Jacqui Lambie and Derryn Hinch are contenders in their respective
states, there is also the outside but real possibility of independent
or minor party pick-ups in other states as well.”

The institute predicts a Senate after the election with the Coalition
having between 30 and 35, and the ALP 27-29. It predicts the Greens
having 8 or 9 seats, One Nation between 2 and 5, Centre Alliance 2-3,
Australian Conservatives one, and others between 0 and 2.

Since the last election the Senate has had many changes, in the wake
of the citizenship crisis and defections. The Morrison government
needs eight of the 10 non-Greens from the crossbench to pass
legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens.

Oquist stressed that predictions were harder than usual to make
because of the voting system changes and a volatile political climate.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Senate crossbenchers take the first steps on lobbying reform – now to ensure it succeeds



File 20171022 13961 1w88rqr.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Jacqui Lambie has released a policy on lobbying that has become the starting point for negotiations on the issue.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

George Rennie, University of Melbourne

The suite of codes, statements and laws governing lobbying are failing Australian voters. Yet, for decades, the two major parties have been unwilling to meaningfully improve them.

But, having recognised the seriousness of the problems with lobbying and corruption in Australia, the Senate crossbenchers – along with lower house independents – have finally begun the process of deciding how lobbying reform should occur.

Into this space, the Jacqui Lambie Network has released a policy that has become the starting point for negotiations on one of Australia’s most important policy challenges.

A ‘federal ICAC’?

Labor and the trade unions have signalled a willingness to tackle lobbying at some point. However, there are meaningful obstacles to the crossbench’s current plan.

Given its control of the lower house, the Coalition would need to be brought on side for legislation to pass anytime soon. However, citing Australia’s performance on Transparency International’s corruption index, Attorney-General George Brandis is against a federal regulator to police anti-corruption.

Similarly, the Institute of Public Affairs – a Liberal Party ideological ally – rejects the idea because such an agency might abuse its power.

However, the crossbench has been more impressed by New South Wales’ Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), where the true “abuses of power” have been those uncovered by the commission.

Enter the crossbench

Given the resistance from the Coalition, hope for changes to lobbying laws currently rest with the Senate crossbench and the lower house independents. They are negotiating a unified policy based on Lambie’s proposal.

The policy acknowledges that new lobbying laws need to be legislated; have meaningful enforcement provisions (including the possibility of fines or imprisonment for serious offences; and have an independent regulator to oversee them.

Having an independent regulator is critical. As it stands, when a minister leaves office, their eligibility to work as a lobbyist, and whether they have breached any lobbying regulations, is determined by those who directly work with – or for – the prime minister.

The problems of the revolving door are significant, and growing. It is now commonplace for former ministers to go on to work for companies directly related to their former portfolios – be it on their boards or as lobbyists.


Further reading: The revolving door: why politicians become lobbyists, and lobbyists become politicians


This creates a clear conflict of interest for those ministers when they are in power. Their decisions while in power have the potential to affect the possibility of a job when they leave office. It also allows them far greater access to, and creates conflicts of interest for, the government decision-makers they meet. These are people they often worked with, for, or above.

As a result, Lambie’s plan would ban ministers and senior public servants from taking up lobbying positions within five years of leaving office. This is increased from the current, poorly-enforced 18-month ban.

This move would bring Australia’s prohibition on post-separation employment in line with Canada and the US. Extending the exemption period of post-separation employment, and having an independent regulator to oversee it, would mean the potential for the aforementioned conflicts of interest and advantageous access are reduced.

Beyond the revolving door provisions, Lambie’s plan centres around the ideal of “levelling the playing field” for interest groups. This in turn is based on the problems that arise when some get better access than others.

As such, Lambie’s plan borrows heavily from the overseas examples. It calls for more transparency in lobbying, incentives to join a register of lobbyists, and expanding the definition of “lobbyists” to include those who operate in-house (Australia’s register currently only captures third-party lobbyists).


Further reading: Australia’s lobbying laws are inadequate, but other countries are getting it right


These goals may be in-part fulfilled by changing the access rules to the highly desired “orange passes” of Parliament House. Under Lambie’s plan, lobbyists are given incentives to join the register for better access to parliamentary offices.

This is an interesting idea, and is focused more on reward than punishment. If coupled with other monitoring conditions, it may improve the transparency of lobbying in Canberra – if only by increasing the likelihood that lobbyists will join the register.

The orange pass concept would be augmented by an expansion of the definition of “lobbyist” to include those who directly represent their organisation, regardless of what it does. This would mean the professional representatives of unions and not-for-profit organisations are treated the same as those from corporations.

At stake: our democracy

Ideally, a representative democracy supports “good lobbying”, where individuals and groups present their ideas, needs and wants on a level playing field. But the status quo in Australia acts to undermine this ideal.

While its benefits are clear, democracy is a fragile system. Its strength is fundamentally reliant on institutional and legal supports, as well as an engaged and informed electorate.

This is where “bad lobbying” presents a significant threat: it uses weak laws and institutions to create an unfair playing field for a few to the detriment of the many, and undermines trust in the system.

In turn, the electorate becomes cynical and disengaged. Democracy collapses when bad lobbying takes hold, and Australia’s bad lobbying has been steadily getting worse – and more pervasive.

The ConversationIn that critical sense, giving Australia’s lobbying laws teeth, and a sizeable regulatory jaw to occasionally brandish them, is a major step in the right direction.

George Rennie, Lecturer in American Politics and Lobbying Strategies, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.