Zombie policies back as Turnbull government eyes new-look SenateMichael Koziol
Published: March 8 2018 - 8:37PM
The Turnbull government has pinned its hopes on changed numbers on the Senate crossbench as it prepares to dredge up a number of controversial failed policies for a second attempt in 2018.
Rejected changes to Australian citizenship, drug testing for welfare recipients and a public interest hurdle for union mergers are all back on the agenda, as the government seeks to exploit the fallout from the dual citizenship debacle, which significantly changed the make-up of the upper house.
That is in addition to the government's flagship corporate tax cuts, which it also hopes to pass.
And there are signs the government could have some success, with several key crossbenchers now indicating they are open to negotiation on contentious policies, all of which are now in the control of new ministers following the frontbench reshuffle late last year.
The Nick Xenophon Team, which lost one of its Senate trio, can no longer single-handedly block all bills that are also opposed by Labor and the Greens. The government can pass bills if it wins the support of One Nation and six other crossbenchers, including wildcard independents Steve Martin (who replaced Jacqui Lambie) and Tim Storer (who replaced Skye Kakoschke-Moore).
Fairfax Media understands informal approaches have been made to the new senators about a revamped Australian citizenship package, including tougher English language testing, although the bill is yet to be properly redrawn.
"We're going to continue to push through," Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said on Thursday. "We're happy to negotiate with the independent senators at the moment, which [Citizenship Minister] Alan Tudge has underway."
Social Services Minister Dan Tehan, who replaced Christian Porter, has already reintroduced a bill to drug test welfare recipients, noting "the composition of the Senate has changed [and] we want to have fresh discussions with the new crossbench senators".
And Workplace Minister Craig Laundy said he was "not going to stop trying" to pass a law that would apply a public interest test to proposed union amalgamations, such as the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union's merger with the Maritime Union, which was given the go ahead by the Fair Work Commission this week.
Employers have whacked the government for not trying hard enough to stop the merger the first time, and Nick Xenophon has described Jobs Minister Michaelia Cash's lobbying last year as "not very intense".
NXT senator Stirling Griff, now the longest-serving member of the party's upper house team, gave a strong indication the NXT could vote for such a law to prevent a single union amassing too much power.
"Generally as an organisation we don’t like monopolies of any kind because they have potential for abuse of power," he told Fairfax Media on Wednesday. "We have not sat down and discussed it as a party."
Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm has also signalled he could back all three bills.
The NSW senator said he would "probably support" a public interest test on union mergers, approved of "raising the bar" on citizenship and - despite last year saying he was "never a fan" - indicated he could vote in favour of drug testing welfare recipients if it included alcohol instead of marijuana.
Another NXT senator, Rex Patrick, left the door open to backing the drug tests, arguing it was a conscience vote in his party and his position would depend on what support services were offered.
The real wildcards in the mix are Mr Storer, who split from the NXT and has been declining calls from his former colleagues, and Senator Martin, who was kicked out of Jacqui Lambie's party and now sits as an independent.
Mr Storer is due to meet with government and opposition representatives in Canberra next week ahead of being officially sworn in. He declined to speak about his position on key policies.
Victorian senator Derryn Hinch said he continued to support drug tests for welfare payees, would consider any new legislation on citizenship and that union mergers were a matter for members.
This story was found at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/zombie-policies-back-as-turnbull-government-eyes-new-look-senate-20180307-p4z3a1.html