POLITICS

The Parliament A-To-Z: What You Need To Know For The New Political Year

From Cory to George, Malcolm to Sussan, Centrelink to refugees, here's your 2017 cheat sheet.

06/02/2017 4:11 PM AEDT | Updated 06/02/2017 5:14 PM AEDT
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Malcolm Turnbull is under pressure and parliament hasn't even started yet

Federal parliament returns on Tuesday after a long summer break, but it has been anything but a happy holiday for the government which is fighting scandal and controversy on several fronts -- both outside and inside their ranks.

An expenses furore which saw health minister Sussan Ley sacked and forced Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull into fast-tracking an updated parliamentary disclosure system, outrage over incorrect debts levelled as part of Centrelink's debt collection plan, uncertainty over the U.S. refugee deal and the controversial phone call between Turnbull and Donald Trump, more bad polling results, and just on Monday, the planned defection of senator Cory Bernardi to start his own party.

It's not been a great few months for the Prime Minister or government.

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Tuesday is the first day back at school, a chance for the government to start a fresh chapter and try to take control of the narrative again, after a 2016 where they nearly lost an election and were accused constantly of plodding along, being too risk-averse, not capturing the imagination of the electorate.

With a resurgent One Nation (and before long, another senator for their team as the replacement for Rod Culleton), Bernardi and his itchy feet, George Christensen also agitating from the backbench, a Labor opposition out to show they can be a credible alternative government, the millstone issues of marriage equality and refugees hanging around the government's neck, and more bad polling numbers, it is set to be an explosive year in Canberra.

Here's what you need to know.

A is for Australian Conservatives -- the name is registered by Bernardi and rumours are going that it is the name for his supposed new party. How a Cory Bernardi party will fit into the political landscape (if it comes to fruition, that is) is unclear. If Bernardi splits, he'll be targeting disaffected Coalition voters unhappy with how the conservative government is running things. Sound familiar? Maybe that's because that's exactly the voter base for One Nation. Whether Bernardi and Pauline Hanson might work together, or as rivals chasing the same voters, is yet to be seen. But the injection of a new party into Parliament House, and the question of whether Bernardi might also drag some other colleagues along with him, will dominate the opening week of parliament. Will he, or won't he? We're apparently going to find out on Tuesday, according to the rumours.

B is for Bill -- Shorten will be trying to show he can be a credible alternative Prime Minister. The next election is likely several years off, but under Shorten, Labor have solidified from a motley crew of unknowns and controversy-covered veterans into a cohesive, slick unit who have shown they can capitalise on the Coalition's mistakes. Shorten is the first Labor leader in an age to see out a parliamentary term without being knifed, which tells you something about the new unity in the team. With Turnbull's leadership under fire, and his polling numbers getting worse by the month, Shorten will be trying to show Australians that he could be Prime Minister -- and show his own side that they shouldn't dump him just yet.

C is for Childcare -- plans to overhaul the childcare system have been in the works for some time, but have stalled in the Senate. Childcare costs are rising, families are hoping for some relief, and it will be on the agenda in 2017.

D is for Dutton -- the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection will be a key figure as the refugee deal with the U.S. progresses, and even further scrutiny is placed on Nauru and Manus Island, but he's here for another reason. Dutton is now arguably the most powerful member of the party's conservative wing, and there are whispers that he would be the man put forward in the event of a leadership spill. The betting markets agree. Watch this space.

E is for Expenses -- the scandal that brought down Sussan Ley and forced the government into damage control. Politicians spending big on flights, hotels and dinners is nothing new, but at a time when the government was cracking down on Centrelink and pensions, Ley and other colleagues charging taxpayers for travel to New Year's Eve parties, VIP functions and sporting fixtures was a bad look. Ley is now consigned to the backbench and Turnbull has promised a new expenses reporting system, so expect it to remain a hot topic for some time.

F is for Fence -- the fence around parliament. Will it happen? When? Will there be a moat? Big questions.

G is for George -- Nationals MP George Christensen has also threatened to walk out on the Coalition if they don't change things. He's less likely than Bernardi to actually do it, but with such a thin majority in the parliament, Turnbull has to take George seriously. He said on Monday he has no plans to break away, but the fiery MP will be one to watch in 2017.

H is for Housing Affordability -- it's a key issue for the year, as Australian property prices continue to rise, and as the major parties clash on how best to get people into their own homes. The Coalition remains committed to keeping negative gearing, despite a few MPs saying the system needs to be addressed, while Labor says the system must be looked at. The parliament's recent report on housing affordability made exactly zero recommendations on how to fix the issue of young people being locked out of the market, but for the youth of Australia, that answer just isn't good enough. The parliament must address housing prices in 2017, and make it easier for someone to buy their first home.

I is for Immigration -- refugees. Detention. The issues around immigration have been a cornerstone of Australian political dialogue for more than 15 years now, since the Tampa incident in 2001. We've still got people in detention on Nauru, the centre on Manus Island has been ordered to shut down, and the refugee deal with the U.S. is under question again after the Trump phone call. One Nation have built their foundation around opposing Muslim immigration and restricting refugee intakes, a fact the Coalition is mindful of as it loses votes to Pauline Hanson. As One Nation builds, will the government take a leaf out of their book?

J is for Joints -- medical cannabis is a developing issue in Australia. The parliament passed laws making it legal last year, but we're still some time away from the products actually becoming available. Recent raids on suppliers offering medical cannabis products have muddied the issue -- the product is permitted, but it's hard to actually get -- and Hanson has said she will make it a key issue for her year. The Greens want to see action. Labor and the Coalition have said it is important. Let's see what they can all agree on.

K is for Kevin Andrews -- with Eric Abetz, these two Tony Abbott lieutenants have not been reticent in offering their *ahem* constructive criticism from the backbench. Abbott is in the papers seemingly every week, giving his take on his successor Turnbull, and you can take to the bank that he won't keep quiet in 2017. Andrews, Abetz, Abbott and more members of the conservative wing won't back down, and will keep Turnbull on his toes.

L is for Leeser -- the new member for Berowra, Julian Leeser gave one of the best speeches the parliament saw in 2016, speaking passionately and devastatingly about his father's suicide. We need more straight talkers in the parliament, and Leeser's passion for addressing mental health is clear. We hope the young MP can spearhead more action on mental health, depression and suicide in 2017.

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Julian Leeser

M is for Malcolm -- the Prime Minister himself. Under attack on countless fronts at the moment, the Turnbull must feel like he's in the middle of a siege. He can't even take a summer holiday without having to dodge bombs and clean up messes, from Sussan Ley and the expenses scandal, to Centrelink to the Trump phone call and the refugee deal. Not much is going right, with even his National Press Club address last week -- meant to kickstart 2017 on a good note -- being overshadowed by his controversial $1.75million donation to the Liberal Party's re-election effort. His popularity is at an all-time low, colleagues are threatening to jump ship, he's been accused of being too risk-averse and a bunch of his plans are unravelling before his eyes. The PM must make a good start to the year, try and rack up some wins, and hopefully get the critics off his back for long enough to lay out a positive plan and get some stuff done.

N is for Newspoll -- Turnbull's numbers are now as low as they were when he toppled Tony Abbott to become PM. Turnbull said his decision was based on those very Newspoll numbers, so hitting Abbott-level unpopularity is not good for his future. Things need to turn around, quickly, for the PM.

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Pauline Hanson delivers a speech in the Senate

O is for One Nation -- and where are the Coalition's votes going? To Pauline Hanson and her team. Coalition voters are leaking to One Nation, ringing alarm bells for the direction of the government. Hanson is resurgent, and will likely pick up another senator for her team when Rod Culleton's replacement (almost sure to be One Nation man Peter Georgiou) joins parliament. Each time she speaks, it's headline news. Like her or not, she is shaping national conversation every day. Her power is rising not just federally but in the states too, with talk of big results in the WA and QLD elections and even more MPs defecting to One Nation. The media attention on "what Pauline Hanson would do as PM" are rather premature, but the government would be foolish to write off One Nation -- that's where their votes are leaking to.

P is for Plebiscite -- marriage equality is still THE hot-button issue of parliament. The Coalition and Turnbull have committed to a plebiscite. Labor, the Greens and more want a free vote in parliament, and they have allegedly been joined by a breakaway group of Liberals who want to see the issue resolved by a free vote. It's an issue hitting Turnbull from his left, to add to the attacks from his right, and will just heap even more pressure on the government.

Q is for Question Time -- yelling. Shouting. Televised personal attacks. And several months' worth of scandals for the opposition to pick from. Question Time this week should be a cracker.

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The Manus Regional Processing Centre on in 2015

R is for Refugee -- the U.S. deal is in doubt, with Trump saying he would study "this dumb deal". Losing the deal would be a body blow for the government. They need to get these people off Nauru and Manus.

S is for Sussan -- Ley is now a backbencher, but her legacy will live on. Expenses will be tightened up this year, and Turnbull's promised reporting system will be interesting to watch. Taxpayers are fed up with being told to be more careful with their money, while our representatives swan around in fancy hotels and on expensive flights. How the expenses system is changed, and what form this new disclosure system will take, will be watched with interest.

T is for Trump -- most immediately, Trump holds the fate of the refugee deal in his hands. More broadly, the implications of the post-Trump world will reverberate around the halls of parliament. Trump's decisions around the South China Sea, international trade, immigration and the Middle East will directly affect Australia, as will a hundred more issues that will crop up during the first year of the Trump presidency. Our politicians will pass commentary. There will be, and have been, calls to 'drain the swamp' in Canberra, to 'make Australia great again'. It will get silly.

Carlos Barria / Reuters

U is for Undecided -- undecided voters are the name of the game here, and the Coalition is losing them to One Nation. Whether those voters will stay with Hanson, or swing back to the Coalition, will decide Turnbull's future. A few more poor Newspoll results and the calls for change will grow louder.

V is for Votes -- see U for Undecided.

W is for Welfare -- the Centrelink debacle must be addressed. Countless people are claiming to have been given incorrect or downright false debts to repay. Questions must be answered about how many people have been given wrong debts, how much money has been wrongly repaid, and how the government will fix it.

X is for Xenophon -- in the drama over the rise of another anti-establishment politician in Hanson, Nick Xenophon has been largely overlooked since the election. He's got three senators, almost as many as One Nation, but the South Australian has kept a relatively low profile since July. In the new year, watch for him to light up parliament again with his trademark stunts.

Y is for Yelling -- There will be lots in Question Time. Nothing new to see here.

Z is for Zimmerman -- one of the group of Liberals allegedly spearheading the push for a marriage equality free vote, the member for North Sydney will play a pivotal role in the future of this debate. Along with Tim Wilson and Warren Entsch, they have previously spoken passionately in favour of marriage equality, and reports are that they will push for a free vote in parliament. This would ignite tensions between the conservative and more moderate factions inside the Coalition, and put Turnbull in a tight bind; he has committed to a plebiscite, but if his party turns the other way, the conservative wing will blow its top. Yet another headache for the PM.

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