ABCC Bills Voted Down, Paving The Way For Early Election

18/04/2016 5:12 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Fairfax Media

UPDATE 6:36pm: The ABCC bills have been defeated in the Senate, handing Malcolm Turnbull his double dissolution trigger and almost certainly paving the way for a July 2 election.

The government needed the support of six crossbench senators to pass the legislation, but only four -- Bob Day, Nick Xenophon, Dio Wang and David Leyonhjelm -- voted in favour. The government lost the vote 36-34.

Turnbull has repeatedly said he would ask the Governor-General to dissolve both houses of parliament and call a July 2 election if the ABCC bills fail to pass in this new session of parliament. It remains to be seen when that call will be made, with the Registered Organisations bill and the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal -- currently being debated in parliament -- still high on the government's agenda.

But on Monday night Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the federal government will focus on the budget before Turnbull addresses the double dissolution trigger.

"We have a budget to deliver first, that's our priority. We have until the 10th or 11th of May to decide to have a double dissolution election," Bishop said on The Project.

"In the meantime, I am deeply disappointed that Labor and a number of senators have allowed the Union corruption to continue across Australia."

The Opposition's Leader in the Senate Penny Wong said Labor is ready to begin its election campaign on Tuesday, but shied away from campaign slogans.

"We are well aware of Malcolm Turnbull's plan and he certainly had a plan to get an election. I don't think he's got a plan for government. I don't think he's got a plan for the future of the country," Wong said on the 7:30 Report on Monday night.

"I don't know that I will be announcing campaign slogans on The 7.30 Report, with all due respect, but we have an agenda and it is about jobs at a time the economy is changing.

"What we have seen from Malcolm Turnbull, disappointingly for many Australians -- for someone whom people had a lot of high hopes -- we haven't seen very much in terms of the real issues that people care about."

EARLIER: The federal parliament returned to Canberra on Monday after being recalled by Turnbull to consider his ABCC bills. He gave them three weeks to pass the bills, or he would take the country to a double dissolution election. The gamesmanship and strategy came into force early, after almost all the senators announced previously which way they would vote, and for much of the day it seemed like all sides were simply going through the motions, as though the outcome was inevitable in any case.

The day got off to a strange start, a rare joint sitting of the parliament in the Senate chamber to hear the Governor-General outline what was at stake and what would happen next. Peter Cosgrove then snubbed Tanya Plibersek's outstretched hand, in an episode quickly dubbed #SnubGate, which really set the tone for a quite silly day in the parliament.

We all knew how the votes would go. Labor and half of the crossbench against the ABCC bills, the government and the other half of the crossbench for them. Jacqui Lambie joked the legislation "had been drafted by a room full of monkeys on a typewriter," and all we could think of was that classic scene from The Simpsons:

Lambie and fellow independent senators John Madigan and Ricky Muir spoke critically of the bill in the Senate. The government needs six of the eight crossbench senators to pass the bill, and with Glenn Lazarus also unlikely to support it, they may struggle to win the support of even four of those eight.

Fairfax Media reports the vote on the bill may be brought forward to Monday night, as early as 6.30pm, with the government not wanting to waste time on a doomed bill. If the bill fails, we will see Turnbull asking the Governor-General to dissolve both houses of parliament in coming days.

About the only surprise was senior Labor figure Stephen Conroy heaping scorn on the Governor-General and his conduct around agreeing to recall parliament early, announcing to the Senate that "a strong Governor-General would never have agreed to this" and calling it "a tawdry political stunt."

"If the Queen had been asked to interfere in the British Parliament in this way, there is no way on this Earth this would have happened," he said.

"What we’ve had today is the ghost of 1975 revisited upon us. The long dead arm of Sir John Kerr crawl out of his grave, crawl out of his grave to participate in a travesty of democracy in this country.”

PM Turnbull, appearing exasperated at Conroy's comments, said "Not for the first time, Senator Conroy has disgraced himself," and called on Labor leader Bill Shorten to condemn "those appalling remarks."

Shorten has since labelled Conroy's remarks "intemperate and unnecessary."

We'll keep you updated with the latest developments, but keep a space in the diary for July 2 -- it's looking more and more likely you'll have a date with the ballot box.

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