POLITICS

Winning Some And Really Losing Some In The Senate

The Turnbull Government passes key legislation, but is not happy.

30/11/2016 12:01 PM AEDT | Updated 30/11/2016 4:08 PM AEDT
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Alex Ellinghausen, Fairfax
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says "We feel pretty good about it"

CANBERRA -- You'd think Malcolm Turnbull's Christmases had all come at once, but the party was quickly over, no matter what the Prime Minister insists.

After years of being stymied, flagship legislation to crackdown on corrupt union behaviour and reinstate the construction industry watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) passed the Senate 36-to-33 with the support of One Nation, Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) senators and fellow crossbench Senators Derryn Hinch and David Leyonhjelm.

It was the second and final July 2 double dissolution election trigger - branded by Labor and the Greens as "anti-union" - and had been three years in the delivery, and joins the other trigger, the Registered Organisations Bill, which passed last week.

"We feel pretty good about it, I have to tell you. It has been a slog," Turnbull insisted with a smile. "There was no prospect of the last Parliament passing it".

Former workplace relations minister Eric Abetz proclaimed the return of the ABCC as a "tough cop back on the beat".

Yet was it all it was meant to be? The ABCC, the John Howard era body to police union lawlessness, thuggery and intimidation, will now return in a Bill Labor derides as a "mere shadow of the original Bill".

There were around 20 concessions to get the cross-benchers onside - including strengthened Commonwealth procurement rules for Nick Xenophon - but the Employment Minister Michaelia Cash insists the rejuvenated ABCC will "have teeth," and declared, "This is all about cultural change within the building and construction sector".

But the Shadow Employment Minister Brendan O'Connor said the passing of the ABCC bill was a massive backflip and based on prime ministerial survival.

"(Turnbull) was willing to horse-trade on any matter with any crossbencher because his leadership relied upon the passage of this bill," O'Connor told reporters.

Regardless, the celebrations stopped with the ABCC Bill thanks to a rogue One Nation Senator and an immovable Jacqui Lambie. It soon became apparent that this week's deal with Senate crossbenchers for a compromise 15 percent position on the backpacker tax had been thrown out the window.

A furious, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has vowed the Turnbull Government will not accept 10.5 percent and has indicated the rate would revert to 32.5 percent from January 1.

"The government will not be accepting these requests in the House of Representatives," he told the Senate.

With One Nation Senator Rod Culleton voting against his own party and David Leyonhjelm, the Senate instead voted with the Opposition to reduce the rate that working holiday makers will be taxed to Lambie's proposal of 10.5 percent.

Culleton later told Sky News he voted to help farmers, "being a farmer myself".

"Pauline knows my position. My position has always been 10.5 percent, that's never changed," he declared.

The reduced rate is not going to fly, as a furious, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann insisted the Turnbull Government will not accept 10.5 percent in the House.

It is then expected to go back to the Senate for another fight, potentially becoming yet another double dissolution trigger, although there are expectations that at least David Leyonhjelm will change his mind again.

In the meantime, the rate would revert to 32.5 percent from January 1.

With concerns about summer fruit rotting on trees, it leaves farmers and the tourism industry in limbo. Any high rate may encourage working holiday workers to work in other competitive countries such as New Zealand and Canada.

The Prime Minister is blaming the Opposition and is "optimistic that we can persuade the Senate to change its mind".

In turn, the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has blamed the Treasurer Scott Morrison and told him to "swallow his pride" and accept the lower rate.

"We got here because of the Government's lack of consultation, we got here because of the Government's arrogance." he told reporters in Canberra.

"On Monday, Scott Morrison -- and I quote -- in a very immature contribution said 'the Labor Party can go jump'.

"He wasn't interested in talking to the Labor Party about a sensible solution, wasn't interested in a sensible bipartisan consensus".

The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) said it has been "blindsided" by the move to 10.5 percent, and its likely rejection, and described Wednesday's proceedings as a "disgrace".

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