Federal Politics

Cory Bernardi crosses floor and unleashes on Turnbull over tax disclosure backflip

Liberal senator Cory Bernardi has crossed the floor for a second time in a fortnight and fired a warning shot to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to better consult the party room, after a midnight deal was struck with the Greens to overturn Liberal policy on private companies disclosing their tax affairs.

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The Liberals opposed the former Gillard government's policy of forcing private companies and entities that turn over $100 million or more a year to disclose their tax affairs, saying it would lead to simplistic naming and shaming of companies and individuals over the value of their tax bills.

The Coalition repealed the measure when it won office in 2013.

But on Wednesday night, Treasurer Scott Morrison agreed with the Greens to reintroduce the policy with a higher threshold of $200 million in exchange for their support of the broader multinational tax avoidance bill.

The legislation was passed on Thursday after Senator Bernardi crossed the floor, complaining that the major U-turn in government policy had not been put to cabinet or the party room.


"That policy decision has never been revisited in the party room.  It has never been discussed at any level that I am aware of, and I first became aware of it this morning when I asked what the price of the deal was with the Greens party for the passage of this amendment," he said.

"To have sprung this on us at the last minute, I think is not in the best interest of my party and the procedures and policies we work with."

Liberal senator Cory Bernardi
Liberal senator Cory Bernardi Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Failing to consult was cited as one of the main reasons for Mr Turnbull losing the leadership in 2009 when the Coalition split on the issue of carbon trading.

On Friday, Senator Bernardi, a critic of Mr Turnbull, told Fairfax Media he was "disappointed" with the lack of proper process.

Scott Morrison believes the states are perfectly capable of fixing their own financial problems.
Scott Morrison believes the states are perfectly capable of fixing their own financial problems. Photo: Andrew Meares

"The party room was promised that proper process would be followed in regard to policy initiatives.  That promise now rings hollow and I hope it's not an indication of what we can expect in the future," he said.

This complaint was echoed by Nationals senator Matt Canavan, who told Fairfax Media he too was concerned about the lack of consultation. 

Failiure to consult was cited as a major reason for Malcolm Turnbull losing the party leadership in 2009.
Failiure to consult was cited as a major reason for Malcolm Turnbull losing the party leadership in 2009. 

He stressed he did not think the problem was a factor of leadership style but rather the need for ministers to negotiate deals with the crossbench senators to get their legislation through. 

"We have to respect all members of the Senate, but you'd hope the senators on your own team get spoken to just as much," he said.

Senator Matt Canavan (left).
Senator Matt Canavan (left). Photo: Eddie Jim

Other Liberals, who did not want to be identified, also said they were concerned by a lack of proper process and said the move would upset the business community.  

The decision was approved by the leadership group, which includes Mr Turnbull, deputy leader Julie Bishop, Nationals leader Warren Truss, and the government's leaders in the House and Senate, Christopher Pyne and George Brandis. 

But one MP, who did not want to be named, said the leadership group needed to be allowed to make calls given the deadline to get the bill through Parliament in the final sitting week of the year was rapidly approaching. 

In a statement released on Thursday, Treasurer Scott Morrison said the government would have preferred to pass the legislation without the Greens' amendments but the Coalition had secured the "best outcome available".

"We commend the Greens for being the pragmatic operator in the Senate that Labor has once again failed to be," he said. 

The fresh round of dissent follows a ragged final week for Mr Turnbull, who, since returning from climate talks in Paris, has had to deal with Labor's escalated attack on Special Minister of State Mal Brough and the shock defection of dumped cabinet minister Ian Macfarlane to the Nationals. 

Last week, Senator Bernardi and former cabinet minister Eric Abetz crossed the floor in support of partially removing compulsory student unionism, in what were chaotic scenes in the Senate when the government split three ways on a motion the Coalition had previously said it would support.

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