Can this Federal Liberal Government survive?

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By Strategic partner John Barker

The implications of the extraordinary result of the July federal election is already very evident when assessing the recent performance of the Australian Parliament.

Scraping over the line with a one seat majority in the House of Representatives and a very weak position in the Senate raises the obvious question of this Liberal Government’s survival.

Until the next federal election I believe it can. To do so however will require a very pragmatic approach by Prime Minister Turnbull. Intransigence to policy, legislation and community issues will undoubtedly result in the Government being in very hot water.

Already, four issues in the federal parliament have highlighted the difficult path the Government must tread.

Firstly, the Government has succeeded, with a deal of negotiation and political maneuvering in passing much of its proposed budget saving initiatives included in its pre-election budget.

The Labor opposition were corralled into agreement given its election policy commitments and with significant negotiation the majority of the Senate including a number of cross benchers, supported the legislation.

The second vote where the Government has been successful is the support of its legislation to stand by the Country Fire Authority and its voluntary fire fighters in Victoria.

This was a fundamental philosophical argument, either in support or not, of trade union domination in a critical community service area.

The legislation passed the House of Representatives, and with significant cross bench support from the Xenophon and Hansen representatives passed the Senate. This was a significant defeat for the ALP and begs the question, why was this matter not pursued aggressively during the federal election?

These two examples have shown how the Parliament can work in what is perceived to be an uncertain environment.

The third is the ‘backpacker tax’ issue. The Government on this occasion tried to tough out a Treasury inspired increase to the tax. Industry, community and political reaction was such that finally the Government relented by reverting to the original taxation impost hoping that the matter was then resolved.

But no, having increased the profile of the issue by its late change, it has encouraged industry and political opponents to seek further reduction.

In this case ignoring the original strong opposition and dithering to achieve resolution has resulted in political opportunism and more significantly impacted the agricultural sector in particular. Meanwhile, Australia’s international reputation has plummeted among backpackers wishing to fund their adventures with earnings from fruit picking and other pursuits.

This matter is still unresolved.

The fourth example, marriage equality, however is a sad case of how the whole of this parliament has let a significant majority of the Australian people down.

Pre-election, we had the Liberal Government, dictated by its conservative rump, opting for a plebiscite on the matter rather than enabling its members a free conscience vote on the floor of the House and the ALP supporting that parliamentary vote.

The election result however certainly does not provide the Government with a ‘mandate’ on this matter. Nevertheless it has vigorously pursued a plebiscite with the help of its conservatives and  National Party colleagues. The ALP, responding to the LGBTI lobby opposition to a plebiscite, has announced it will hold to a parliamentary free vote which will defeat the legislation in the Senate with the help of the crossbench.

It is an elected member’s responsibility to vote on these issues. Given the Government’s slim margin, its approach is dangerous.

The argument of seeking the people’s vote on this matter is weak, particularly given the Prime Minister’s initial personal views on the matter. This is an ideal time to negotiate a parliamentary free vote. Even with the conservative’s support it would have passed the parliament.

Nonetheless survival, at all costs, has dictated this outcome. One which could defer successful resolution of the matter at least until after the next election, unless a Government member crosses the floor in the House of Representatives. My perception is that the general public are thoroughly sick of the matter and are appalled at the Government’s handling of it.

The score based on the above is 2 – 2.

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