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Man On Wire: Turnbull Ends The Year Over Dangerous Political Waters

In a power vacuum, everyone can hear Cory Bernardi scream.

07/12/2016 12:09 PM AEDT | Updated 07/12/2016 9:09 PM AEDT
Eduardo Munoz / Reuters
Malcolm Turnbull's had a rough end to the year.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is ending the year by wading into dangerous political waters, with his election mantra of "jobs and growth" taking a battering from lackluster national growth figures as he fends off a backbench riled over environment policy.

Just a over a week since the polls showed Turnbull's net-approval rating at zero, the PM entered the worst political hump day in his 14-month tenure in the top job, with news the nation's economy contracted by 0.5 percent in the three months to September.

It was the first economic contraction since March 2011 and stuck a rusty barb in Turnbull and Scott Morrison's "jobs and growth" platform.

Aly Song / Reuters
The Prime Minister hasn't felt the love from his backbench this week, after a bungled policy float involving his environment minister

The day started badly for the PM ahead of the figures' release, with cameras snapping him taking possession of a double-espresso before dropping it in front of the waiting press.

At a press conference at a fish market, Turnbull had to defend a backdown on a potential emissions trading policy by his environment minister, Josh Frydenberg -- a thought bubble that has caused discomfort among some backbenchers.

Turnbull thrice refused to answer questions on whether his office approved of the policy proposal.

On Monday Frydenberg announced the release of the terms of reference for a review of the government's climate change policies, in which he said the government "absolutely rejected the Labor Party's economy-wide approach" to carbon pricing, while leaving the door open on a sector-by sector emissions intensity scheme.

Then by Tuesday afternoon, Frydenberg had to try and walk it back following intense pressure form the backbenches. In an interview on 3AW radio, he said that he "didn't mention an emissions intensity scheme" (he did.)

It's not the first embarrassing thought bubble from the government, which last year appeared to get the ball rolling on GST reform before the PM was forced to backtrack in February.

It made waves all the way from the United States, where vocal senator Cory Bernardi didn't let his secondment to the United Nations stop him from sharing his thoughts on the policy:

Meanwhile the Senate has also been rowdy, and not because one of its more more colourful characters, WA's Rod Culleton, is off to the High Court to defend his election. Things even got a bit rowdy inside the court.

It's not the only boom-crash-opera in the upper house, with Attorney-General George Brandis, by far not the first AG to cause a fuss, facing a grilling from his senate colleagues amid accusations the coalition participated in a secret deal between former treasurer Joe Hockey and the WA government which cost federal taxpayers $300 million.

All of this came amid a busy and highly complex week of senate maneuvering, which saw the government worry-through compromised versions of its Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) bill and its backpacker tax, the latter which required a deal with the Greens.

And all the while the PM has the narrowest of majorities in the lower house -- just one seat --and a hungry opposition biting at his heels with salty Britney Spears zingers.

And so it was left to treasurer Morrison to run interference on Wednesday's troubling GDP numbers, a figure which surprised economists who had expected a smaller seasonally adjusted contraction in the headline figure.

The treasurer was asked by a reporter on Wednesday if it was time to think of different ways to cut spending and increase tax revenues, considering the parliament's attitude to the government's central policies.

Morrison pointed to the government's successful passage of $21 billion in measures it says will help the budget bottom line before expressing a perfect hump-day sentiment.

"I won't give up on this parliament. I have got good reason not to give up on it at this point," he told reporters.

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