On Sunday morning 10 July, before Shorten conceded defeat in the election, Arthur Sinodinos appeared on the ABC’s Insiders
. He claimed the Coalition had a ‘mandate’ for its 2016 budget and its company tax cuts. Sinodinos’s view takes no account of the reality of the new parliament.
Although the final count is not yet complete, it appears the LNP will win 76 or 77 seats in the House of Representatives and Labor 68 or 69 (the uncertainty at the time of writing being the seat of Herbert in Queensland). So Turnbull will form a majority government but also has to provide a Speaker. If the LNP final total is 76, which means 75 after a Speaker is elected, then the government will be reliant on one of Bob Katter, Cathie McGowan, Andrew Wilkie, Rebekha Sharkie or Adam Bandt to pass legislation that is opposed by Labor. It will also need an effective pairing agreement for those times when parliamentarians are absent for legitimate reasons.
The Senate will be more complicated. At this stage its result is less clear
but we already know there will be at least six Greens (possibly three more at the final count), Pauline Hanson (and possibly another one or two One Nation members), Jacquie Lambie, Derryn Hinch, three of the Nick Xenophon Team and probably another minor party member. These represent a great diversity of views but the Coalition could require all of the non-Green Senators to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens.
These independents and minor parties have their own agendas
which they would no doubt wish to pursue in any negotiations in which their support was needed for specific legislation — or, in some cases, their position would not allow them to vote for some of the government’s current policies. For example, in the lower house:
- on tax, Katter wants to remove the Fringe Benefits Tax for FIFO miners; NXT wants to limit tax cuts to those businesses earning up to $10 million and wants the temporary deficit levy to be extended; the Greens want a progressive tax rate on superannuation and want to end negative gearing.
- on a federal ICAC, it is supported by the Greens, McGowan, Wilkie and NXT
- on carbon emissions, McGowan wants a price on carbon (and did vote against repealing the ‘carbon tax’); NXT would like an emissions trading scheme; and Wilkie previously supported Gillard’s carbon pricing.
In the upper house, as well as the Greens and NXT, the views of Lambie, Hinch and One Nation come into play:
- on tax, Lambie wants a financial transaction tax on high-speed share traders; One Nation wants to get rid of the Double Taxation Agreement which stops companies being taxed both in Australia and another country for the same product (that would breach many of Australia’s tax treaties and free trade deals); only Hinch is likely to support the full extent of the government’s corporate tax cuts.
- on carbon pricing, Hinch, Lambie and One Nation all oppose an emissions trading scheme (or climate science itself).
- on immigration, One Nation’s views are well known; Hinch supports multiculturalism and opposes the views of One Nation; Lambie wants immigrants to be screened on the basis of whether they support Sharia law.
They each want Royal Commissions into different subjects:
- One Nation seeks an inquiry on Islam
- Lambie and NXT want an inquiry on defence abuse and veterans’ welfare
- NXT also supports the Labor proposal for an inquiry into banking
- Hinch wants an inquiry into the Family Court and child protection agencies
Put that together and it is difficult to see how the government will get all its budget measures through the Senate as it is unlikely to agree to some of those positions.
Josh Frydenberg has come out and said that the government should not change its immigration policies nor support for multiculturalism which would seem to rule out horse-trading for One Nation’s vote but without those votes it becomes less likely it will get measures through the Senate.
The easiest way for the government to get legislation through the Senate will be to win Labor or Green support but that will also require compromise to meet the views of those parties.
I heard a radio report that there had been consideration of government policies in terms of which were supported by Labor or the Greens, including which of the so-called ‘zombie’ measures Labor had indicated during the election campaign that it would use in its own budget calculations, those which may be supported with amendments, and which were opposed — it was claimed that the ‘opposed’ column was quite small. (I have not, however, been able to find a written or on-line confirmation of that report.)
One measure that was mentioned was the reduction in R&D tax incentives. During the campaign Labor did announce in its savings measures that it would support the reductions. A proposal to reduce R&D tax incentives goes back to the Gillard government but was opposed by the then Abbott-led Opposition — the details have changed each time it has been resurrected. The Abbott government brought it forward again thinking, as Labor had introduced the idea, that it would gain Labor support but Labor opposed it because the Abbott government did not intend to use the savings in the way Labor had proposed. So even if the Turnbull government brings it into parliament again, it cannot take Labor support for granted unless a significant part of the savings are used for other purposes supported by Labor and that appears unlikely.
The government is also unlikely to get its company tax cuts through parliament in their current form — that over a period of ten years all companies are included. Labor only supports the cut for companies with a turnover of up to $2 million and NXT for companies with a turnover of up to $10 million. So it will be impossible for the government to pass the legislation required in the Senate without a significant compromise that limits the size of the companies to which the cut will apply. So the question for Turnbull will be whether to abandon the idea altogether (thus making significant savings in the budget) or to accept it in a more limited form.
Ironically, even the legislation for the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) which was the formal trigger for the double dissolution is unlikely to pass the new parliament, even at a joint sitting. Even Bob Katter opposes it as he supports the CFMEU — despite his ‘redneck’ reputation, Katter is in many ways more like old conservative Labor.
The new Turnbull government’s problems don’t end with the new parliament. It has internal problems that will also affect its legislative agenda.
For a start, the coalition agreement with the Nationals will be renegotiated and Barnaby Joyce, as Nationals’ leader, has already indicated that he will be seeking greater power as the Nationals have improved their position while the Liberals lost ground. Such ‘power’ may require the inclusion of more National policies but whether or not we ever find that out is unclear. Joyce maintains that the agreement, even though set out in writing, must remain confidential. Labor is already mounting a campaign that it should be public and transparent because voters have a right to know what deals are being done to form their government.
Turnbull and Morrison may also face opposition to the government’s superannuation policy. The government’s own conservative members, such as Peter Dutton and Eric Abetz, have already blamed the policy for the loss of votes from the Liberal’s ‘base’. Sinodinos in his Insiders
’ interview refuted that. It will no doubt come up for discussion in the party room and we will have to await the outcome. Labor will certainly oppose it in its current form although Labor’s spokesperson on superannuation, Jim Chalmers, has suggested an independent inquiry
to determine whether or not it is retrospective — then Labor may support changes that are ‘workable and fair’ and not
Turnbull may also lose some power within his own cabinet as there are increasing demands for more conservative members to be included on the front bench. In the election Turnbull appears to have lost at least three ministers and junior ministers who supported his ascension last September. What influence that will have on future government policy also remains to be seen but it is likely to be in directions that cannot be supported by Labor or the Greens.
Members of the government, including Turnbull, have conceded that they did themselves create the fertile ground for Labor’s so-called ‘Mediscare’ campaign and that they need to regain the public’s trust on health issues prior to the next election. What they will do is an unknown. Morrison has already suggested that if they were to ‘unfreeze’ the Medicare scheduled fees, then savings would need to be found elsewhere. I think they will have trouble selling that to the parliament partly because Labor takes the view that rather than just making savings, revenue needs to be raised.
So despite Sinodinos’s optimism that the government has a ‘mandate’ for its budget and policies, there appears very little chance of its key policies passing the parliament unchanged. Labor is unlikely to support even those measures it agreed with during the election if the government does not use some of the savings for Labor-supported social measures.
Many of the cross benchers have their own agenda which will also force changes in the government’s policies.
Its own conservative wing appears to have increased its influence and will no doubt use that influence in policy deliberations.
And the Nationals have also improved their relative position and will demand more of their own policies.
If the Liberals think they have a ‘mandate’ and can really implement their budget, tax and economic policies in their current form, then they are dreaming!