Senate wrangling as the budget gets mangled

Palmer spoiling Abbott’s party

That was the headline of the sensible Dennis Atkins’ opinion piece in the Courier Mail on Saturday.

Abbott now has to wait until next week and cede the centre stage in the House of Representatives to Clive Palmer, the pest who has become a nemesis while also being the guy the PM cannot ignore.

Tony Wright in the SMH describes Palmer as the emperor in the check shirt holding court upon a leather chaise longue at the entrance to the Senate chamber. There “the formerly mighty paid obeisance, begging his mercy”:

Here came Eric Abetz, leader of the government in the Senate; Mitch Fifield, manager of government business in the Senate; Simon Birmingham, parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Environment; all of them very nearly falling to their knees. A swirl of harried government advisers circled and whispered, knowing there was no escape for their masters.

Clive Palmer had no pity to dispense.

His eyes were dead to the presence of the supplicants, his ears closed to their pleading.

Repeal the carbon tax today? No chance.

He drew around him his little band of senators, instructing them on their duty.

And so on.

There is plenty at stake. Atkins article identifies the following:

  • Stopping Newstart for the young for 6 months – $2.1b
  • Changes to family tax benefit B – $1.9b
  • Axing seniors supplement $1.2b
  • Co-payment for pharmaceuticals – $1.2b
  • Higher education cuts – $5b
  • CPI petrol excise rise $4.1b
  • Medicare co-payments $3.6b
  • Freezing family tax benefit indexation – $2.6b
  • Axing family tax supplements $1.2b
  • Other measures – at least $2b.

Right there is $25 billion I assume over forward estimates. Surely Hockey will need a mini-budget to effect repairs, but I hate to think what he might cut in the process assuming he won’t increase taxes.

It’s important to remember, however, that Palmer only becomes potent when Labor and the Greens line up in opposition to the Abbottistas.

And then Palmer only controls three votes whereas Abbott needs six of the eight cross-benchers to line up.

Ricky Muir is stressing his autonomy. Again from the SMH:

Ricky Muir is moving out of the shadow of Clive Palmer, describing his agreement with the Palmer United Party as nothing more than a “loose alliance” and warning the government not to assume he will vote with PUP.

Senator Muir stressed his agreement with the bloc boiled down to being “together but autonomous”.

“The memorandum of understanding [signed with PUP] did say, and I stand by it, we will work together where practical. But we’re going to need to do our own research on every different topic and then work together where practical.”

Topics that interest Muir are:

The so-called ”rev-head senator” outlined personal passions that include organic food, which he grows and eats from his garden in rural Victoria, preventive healthcare, which he is interested in championing at a political level, and renewable energy, following his surprise intervention last week to protect the Australian Renewable Energy Agency from the government’s budget knife.

Giles Parkinson says Muir decided to make his mark in rescuing ARENA after the famous ‘brain freeze’ interview with Mike Willisee.

We’ll have to see whether that means the Government will stop playing hardball. The Guardian reported earlier that industry minister, Ian MacFarlane, had been refusing to renew the contracts of ARENA board members meaning that within a few weeks the secretary of the industry department would be the only remaining board member of the authority. Parkinson emphasises that no investment will flow until confidence is restored.

In this as with the senate generally the Government is struggling to appear in control. Abbott assured the faithful in Brisbane that all was “normal” which Shorten thought delusional. Greg Hunt huffed and puffed and said:

he was “sending a very, very, very clear message” to any crossbenchers who voted against repeal that they would have to “explain themselves” to the Australian people, saying he was “firming up [his] approach from diplomacy to send a very clear message”.

He only said that because he thinks he has PUP, Muir, David Leyonhjelm and Bob Day on board. There’s just one small problem. Clive has been relaxing in New Zealand:

The PUP leader, Clive Palmer, told Guardian Australia that he was on holidays and “oblivious” to any deal, the PUP senators are not scheduled to meet to consider any changes until Monday morning, and four other Senate crossbenchers refuse to guarantee their vote until they see the final form of the agreement.

Still the Government says they are going to call Palmer’s bluff and bring on the vote. I thought that was where they went wrong last week. That included them accepting Palmer’s amendment with all of 15 minutes consideration. Then it all fell apart again. Xenephon:

“I think if the government was asked to put red underpants on their heads in the Senate chamber, I reckon they probably would have done it.”

Still it might all go smoothly and the Government will succeed in stripping another $9 billion off the bottom line!

Last week Tony Wright says:

It was as if Labor’s 36 faceless men of 1963 had been revisited in reverse.

And while all around wore serious suits and smart little business frocks, the big man lounged in chinos and a checked shirt unbuttoned halfway to his belly. An emperor in clothes of his own choosing.

Here’s Palmer at a press conference looking relaxed:


We wait to see whether the soapie continues!

Se also Disorder in the house.

21 thoughts on “Senate wrangling as the budget gets mangled”

  1. Palmer has given a tick to the amendment others slaved over during the weekend while he was relaxing in NZ.

    So it’s RIP to the ETS, but it will rise again according to Palmer:

    Mr Palmer also told Parliament that PUP senators would move later this week to set up the framework of an emissions trading scheme, that would come into effect only when Australia’s major trading partners put an ETS in place.

    “Our senators plan to move in the Senate an ETS dependent upon our trading partners also acting in that regard,” he said.

    “We must stand on the right side of history.”

    Labor leader Bill Shorten has pointed out it is seven years – almost to the day – since former Liberal prime minister John Howard announced his plans to introduced an emissions trading scheme.

    “But this Liberal Party, this once great party of the free market and free enterprise, wants no part of this market solution,” he said.

    “They want to tear everything down that has been built. They want to replace it with an amateur, ill-conceived, centralist, Soviet-style voucher system that will give the nation’s biggest polluters great wads of taxpayer money to keep polluting.” (Emphasis added)

  2. University funding cuts cause severe indigestion for government.

    In a robo-poll taken one month after the budget:

    Education Minister Christopher Pyne appears to have taken much of the blame and would currently lose his electorate of Sturt in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs in a 15 per cent swing away from him, propelled by a disastrous approval rating of minus 14 per cent.

    He retained the seat easily at the 2013 election securing 54 per cent of the primary vote for a two-party-preferred result of 60 per cent.

    Now, his primary support has dropped to 41 per cent – a 13 per cent slump or a 15 per cent drop after preferences.

  3. Assuming that it all goes through the Senate, who are the winners and losers?
    PUP. They will be seen as the group with the real power who have struck a blow for the ordinary person by ensuring that some of the savings will be passed on. They have also demonstrated that they can stay united and will negotiate in good faith.
    Labor: They have fought the good fight and ended up with the opportunity to come up with something more sensible like a contract based system that cant be easily torn down by the next Tea Party. Also gives them the opportunity to concentrate the debate on the government’s direct action lite policy.
    LNP. They have lost the easily attacked carbon tax while having to explain why the drop in power and gas bills have been are so low. They have also lst a useful source of revenue.
    Not sure:
    The Greens. Need to forget about the carbon price and start demanding real direct action.
    The other X benchers. Need to unite to do something like blocking the gag. Need to avoid perception that PUP can deliver on its own.

  4. Abbott is claiming that households will be $500 pa better off. I think Palmer says about half that for electricity and gas alone.

    It’s small when you compare what the budget hits everyone for.

  5. We ain’t going to get an ETS. Not that I ever expected Palmer to ever really go for it.
    Suspect the Left’s delight in him and the PUPs will be the amount of damage they can cause Abbott.

  6. A key question is how much Palmer will save if the carbon tax goes.
    A while ago our per capita power consumption was 10,000 kWh/yr. At 2 cents/kWh carbon tax that is $200/yr or $600/yr for a 3 person household. The 10,000 includes power used for manufacturing, exports etc., not just the household power bill.
    Abbot’s $500 looks as though it is close to the mark. However, keep in mind that the household power bill saving will be much lower.

    People will have their new power bills well before the next election.

    Also keep in mind that the loss in revenue will have to be replaced by something else or even further budget cutting.

  7. John

    Also keep in mind that the loss in revenue will have to be replaced by something else or even further budget cutting.

    Well the PPL and Direct Action won’t happen so there’s a substantial ” saving ” right there.
    He’s also ( or was, ya never can tell ) adamant that FBT be abolished.
    Like it or loath it there’s a $bill p/a to find if it goes.
    But fortunately, for him, he’s got at least 3 years ( and many more if the polls are correct ) to ” bargain ” with that.
    As Paul @6 pointed out;

    Suspect the Left’s delight in him and the PUPs will be the amount of damage they can cause Abbott.

    The left are so blinded by their hate for Abbott they can’t see Clive in the light.
    Abbott is a wet by comparison.

  8. Palmer’s ideas on budgeting are seriously weird!

    Jumpy Xenephon says he’s been talking to Hunt about how to improve Direct Action. According to him Hunt was listening!

  9. From a comment made to a Guardian post.

    For goodness sake, haven’t you worked Palmer out yet, it’s not like he’s hiding anything. Palmer came to politics for four reasons, the Carbon Tax, Cheaper Electricity, whatever else can make him a fortune and to get re-elected to ensure that he controls legislation that will make more money in his business. Everything Clive does means he makes a shitload more money out of his business interests. It’s as plain as the nose on your face, I don’t know how you can miss it. So far, he’s been in the Senate about a fortnight, got everything he wanted and paid off all the costs associated with getting elected about 5 times over and managed to confuse every journalist in Australia. Not one article have I seen mentioning how Clive will benefit from these decisions. From now on in, he will be going a mix of populist crap to get re-elected and ensuring he makes even more money from his business. Time for some intelligent journalism to show Australia just how much money Palmer puts in his pocket for each of the decisions he supports. At the moment, he’s making fools of the Australian people and particularly our journalists.

    I think this bloke might have hit it on the head.

  10. Paul, Lenore Taylor, also in The Guardian, reckons she’s worked out the Palmer pattern:

    After six days of the new Senate a “Palmer pattern” is emerging and it looks like this – cause maximum drama and disruption and then support the government after extracting minimal cobbled-together concessions during chaotic backroom meetings from which all stakeholders are excluded.

    It makes the government look like donkeys being led by the nose, but much worse than that spectacle, it is a terrible way to run the lawmaking process.

    I think it’s a bit early to say, and I do think he has his idea of the public good in mind.

    In his early life he was involved in the Liberal Party. Then, already having made a mozza out of real estate on the Gold Coast, he became media director for the Nationals. He’s had a consistent involvement in politics which seems to go beyond self interest.

  11. Well, jumpy, we know he’s not a lefty.

    Yes, we do, but apparently the left are ” delighted ” with him as long as he damages Abbott.
    I suspect that ” delight ” will turn to anguish reeeeaaal soon.
    That said, PUPs rise can be laid solely at ALPs feet if the election results are any indication, and they are.

  12. The government of Australia (shouldn’t that be the Kleptocracy of Soviet Australia?) seems to be backing over a precipice. Nobody in Parliament and none of the politically-active corporations want that to happen, of course, but I think it is nevitable. There will have to be a double-dissolution election fairly soon; dozens of prominent politicians will be turned into feather-dusters …. and none of the current problems will be resolved by that. They won’t be resolved because nobody in the parliament nor among the corporate decision-makers at present has the courage or the vision to take us all in new direction …. we will have to endure yet another Alpha-Mule or Great Leader as we continue reversing over a social and economic precipice.

  13. I think Abbott will avoid a double dissolution, because the quota for a senate seat halves and we could end up with a real infestation of PUP. He’d also need to be ahead in the polls.

    I suspect that ” delight ” [with Palmer] will turn to anguish reeeeaaal soon.

    Possibly. Certainly he’d be as big a pain in the posterior to a future Labor government.

  14. Brian: I don’t think Abbott – or his replacement – will have any choice at all about having a double dissolution. Nor will the Governor-General have too many choice either; if he tries to resolve all the crises by martial law or any other military means, he will be out of a job that day.

    Listened to a Coalition wallah just now whinging about how Labor, Greens and cross-benchers want to continue playing Santa Claus and so crush us with a half-trillion deficit.
    Well, that’s poetic justice. The Coalition and its puppeteers invented the Bludget Blowout Boogeyman and now it has turned on its makers and is biting them. Yes, the balance-of-trade, the budget overruns and the debt problems all need intelligent and innovative attention but the faux-conservative mob we elected are sure as hell incapable of doing that …. and all the blaming of the current Senate is only confirming their foolishness.
    As for the Santa Claus syndrome: wasn’t Prime Minister Robert Menzies, the Santa Claus in Chief, the boss-cocky of the LIBERAL Party? I rest my case.

  15. You don’t need to go back as far as Menzies Graham. John Winston Howard was was the most recent Santa Claus, buying election after election.

  16. Zoot:

    John Winston Howard was was the most recent Santa Claus, buying election after election.

    That is the reason we are in trouble at the moment. Santa clause used unusually friendly economic were used to cut taxes to the point where they were unsustainable by the time he was kicked out. Unfortunately Labor lacked the guts to make sensible tax decisions and the Greens arent helping in their decisin to oppose indexing the fuel tax.

  17. John, I keep waiting for Labor to find a spine, and the Liberals to find a brain. I fear I will die waiting.

Comments are closed.