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Paul Bongiorno on the battle lines in Australia’s new senate.

How much do you crossbench, bro?

Read Transcript

Australia has a new emissions reduction target.

Last week, Anthony Albanese promised the United Nations Australia will cut emissions by 43 per cent of our 2005 levels by 2030.

But the Prime Minister wants to turn that target into law by passing it through parliament. Whether he can will come down to the historic new senate crossbench, which was finalised this week.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on the battle lines in Australia’s new senate.

 

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno.

 

Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am

Australia has a new emissions reduction target.

Last week, Anthony Albanese promised the United Nations Australia will cut emissions by 43 per cent of our 2005 levels by 2030.

But the Prime Minister wants to turn that target into law, by passing it through parliament. Whether he can, will come down to the historic new senate crossbench – which was finalised this week.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno, on the battle lines in Australia’s new Senate.

It’s Friday June 24. 

[Theme Music Ends]

RUBY:
Paul. In about a month Parliament will return to Canberra and already we're starting to hear a bit about how members are going to vote on the very first pieces of legislation that Parliament will consider. So when it comes to the big policy areas that this Parliament will be trying to fix things like climate policy and energy policy and those sorts of challenges. What have we heard this week? 

PAUL:
Well, Ruby, Peter Dutton has now committed his senators to voting against Labor's proposal to legislate its 43% emissions reduction target by 2030. Now that would mean Labor would require the vote of the Greens and one more member of the crossbench in the Senate for the target to pass.

Archival Tape -- David Speers (ABC):
“Do you support the target, the new target?”

Archival Tape -- Peter Dutton:
“Well, we'll see what the Labor Party puts forward-...”

Archival Tape -- David Speers (ABC):
“Well, they have signed up. So do you support it?”

Archival Tape -- Peter Dutton:
“Well, let's…well, let's-...let's see what they put forward, because they've got to negotiate…”

PAUL:
But sticking with the opposition for a second, Ruby, it was very curious that Peter Dutton seemed to have any particular problem with that target. Instead, his opposition is to just legislating it. 

Archival Tape -- David Speers (ABC):
“They've now signed up to a target. I'm just wondering whether you support it.”

Archival Tape -- Peter Dutton:
“Now our position is what we took to the election. We're not supporting legislation and we've been clear about that…”

Archival Tape -- David Speers (ABC):
“No, the target itself. I know you’re not supporting the legislation…”

PAUL:
But Dutton believes evidently putting it into law could cause hardship for business and homeowners. Dutton's view seems to be that the defeated coalition should stick to its guns because, and I quote, that's the position we took the Australian people and millions of people voted for us on that basis. But it's a backward looking view and clearly he's open to reigniting the climate wars as an immediate hip pocket issue for voters. But that didn't go down very well with everyone in his party room.

RUBY:
What do you mean by that, Paul? Is there really a fight going on inside the Coalition over Dutton's approach to climate change this early on?

PAUL:
Well, there very well could be Ruby. There are murmurs of a revolt in Dutton's ranks. The few remaining moderates have told several newspapers they may cross the floor to support Labor's move. They want a signal to Liberal voters who deserted the party for the climate action independents that they get the message. Then there are others who are unimpressed with Dutton announcing policy without the scrutiny of the party room first. One’s particularly furious - they told me, quote, “There's no reset, no strategy except more of the same.” So there is discontent. And the whole affair has more than one of his MPs wondering how exactly Peter Dutton thinks he can win back hitherto Liberal voters who deserted the party for the teals or even the Greens if this is going to be his approach on climate. 

RUBY:
Hmm. And as you mentioned before, Paul, what this means is that the government will really need the support of the Greens to pass this legislation. And obviously the Greens are committed to a more ambitious emissions reduction target than Labor is. So it might be interesting to see how that plays out.

PAUL:
It certainly will be, Ruby. And Greens leader Adam Bandt hardened his rhetoric about the inadequacy of Labor's target during the week, but at the same time seems to be keeping open the prospect of voting to support it. 

Archival Tape -- Adam Bandt:
“The target that is being proposed is barely above business as usual. The states doing most of the heavy lifting is going to get as close to that target anyway. So it's not very ambitious. But look, the approach that we take will really be dependent in large part on the government. We're willing to talk. We're willing to sit down with the government…”

PAUL:
Appearing on ABC Radio, Bandt said that Labor's ‘my way or the highway’ was rejected by the electorate. He says the proof of that is the historic vote for Greens and climate independents. 

Archival Tape -- Adam Bandt:
“And even though the government doesn't have a majority in the Senate, they're now saying it's take it or leave it…”

PAUL:
But Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says he's merely delivering on the agenda he successfully took to the election. All of this of course is a bit of pre-fight sparring, but there's no doubt this is an acid test for Dutton and even Bandt. The Government says it's committed to 43% and only wants it legislated to give investors certainty. 

RUBY:
And just on Parliament resuming, Paul, the Coalition is in opposition for the first time in almost a decade and it's a very different group of members than when they were in opposition last time. So how do you think they're going to deal with being on the other side of the chamber?

PAUL:
Well, no doubt it'll be a culture shock for the coalition. They don't have the numbers in either House of Parliament to control what happens in the Senate. They would need the Greens to join them. If they wanted to block anything. Now, some are predicting this coalition opposition will be a bit rusty when they come back to Parliament. One Labor insider I spoke to this week told me they doubt if, quote, Dutton and Fletcher, his main tactician, are even aware that there are standing orders, let alone what they do.

This Coalition frontbench, you know Rube, could be in for a much rougher time. 

RUBY:
We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:
Paul, we've been talking about this new parliament and how it might look and sound when it comes back. This week, the Electoral Commission announced the final results from the Senate elections, which means that we finally know who is going to actually be in parliament a full month after the election result. And it's a pretty historic group, isn't it?

PAUL:
Well, yes, there are more members and senators who don't belong to the government or the opposition than at any time since 1910, which is a pretty remarkable record. And the final count drops some surprising results. After all, the millions of dollars spent by Clive Palmer, his United Australia Party did in fact secure one senator. And strangely, Victoria, which might be the most progressive state in the country, elected the UAP's Ralph "Deej" Babet.

Archival Tape -- Ralph Babet:
“You must never make the freedom of speech criminal in the Bill of Rights. The freedom of movement will be in the Bill of Rights. The freedom to choose your own medical treatments will be in the bill…”

PAUL:
He's a conspiracy theorist from the pro freedom anti-vax, hard right. UAP’s relatively high vote in Victoria is seen as a reaction to the prolonged lockdowns and the vaccine mandates.

Anyhow, other interesting and unusual results saw former Wallabies captain and climate progressive David Pocock defeat Liberal Zed Seselja for the second Senate spot in the ACT. 

Archival Tape -- David Pocock:
“Yeah, I'm ready. Yeah. I think sport teaches you a whole bunch of things. Having work ethic, being part of a team, being able to deliver under pressure. You know, as an independent, I'm here to represent people of the ACT…”

PAUL:
And in Tasmania. Jacqui Lambie, former office manager Tammy Tyrrell got up over conservative Liberal stalwart Eric Abetz.

Archival Tape -- Tammy Tyrrell:
“But I'm not a traditional politician and I'll never be there. Jacqui is not a traditional politician. And if you support the network you will not get traditional, you will get new, you will get exciting, you will get a difference…”

PAUL:
So, Ruby, the votes have delivered a fascinating parliament, creating all sorts of scenarios about what might happen in both houses, but particularly in the Senate. 

RUBY:
And Paul, even though we're a month away from Parliament actually resuming, you'd imagine that Labor are looking at these results and are already trying to strategize how to navigate the Senate.

PAUL:
Well, definitely, Ruby. Labor only has 26 senators in the 76 chambers, so it would need 13 other senators to vote with it to have its legislation passed. Now the Greens have 12 senators, so it would be easy to look at the arithmetic and say Labor will need the Greens plus one of either David Pocock or Jacqui Lambie or her new sidekick. The Coalition does have 32 senators and while you'd imagine under the leadership of Peter Dutton, they would probably be urged to make life as difficult as possible for Albanese, although there may be some issues where it might benefit both Labor and the Coalition to vote together and sideline this new historically large Senate crossbench. But I can tell you, Ruby, people are weighing up just how exactly all this impacts on our parliamentary democracy. Ben Oquist, who's the former chief of staff to the Greens founding leader Bob Brown, told me that the sheer numbers means this Parliament will change the nature of the public and policy debate. He thinks it will be a very noisy parliament in the sense that all these disparate voices and there are 34 of them, will be jostling hard to make sure they're heard. 

RUBY:
And I mean, what would actually change in Parliament, Paul? Because it sounds like it's going to be filled with a lot more independents and greens with all of their disparate views. But are we talking about actual changes to the way that Parliament operates? 

PAUL:
Well, the Prime Minister told his first government party room meeting that he wants to change the way politics works in this country. He wants to be more inclusive and he says we can make it happen. His leader in the House, Tony Burke, has already had a meeting and phone conversations with the Warringah independent Zali Steggall about this. She's urging Labor to revamp the Standing Orders regulating the way the Parliament operates, with more time for non-government members to contribute to debates and initiate legislation. 

RUBY:
Right. So Labor's actually open to that, to changing the way that they use parliamentary rules to to give the crossbench more time. 

PAUL:
Well, Burke has already signalled that he accepts that the new numbers demand the independents are allocated more questions, but is yet to finalise his revamp of procedures. 

Archival Tape -- Tony Burke:
“On Question Time. For example, at the moment you've got a formal thing in the Standing Orders that there's one crossbench question. Well, when they're occupying roughly a quarter of the Opposition Benches now crossbench members, then you can't just have one question in question time.” 

PAUL:
Although he does say he has no plans to turn the place into a polite dinner party. One demand from Steggall he's unlikely to budge on his weiping, the infamous Dorothy Dixon's. Now, these are the questions from government members to ministers and Ruby. They’re pre-scripted by ministers or their offices.

Archival Tape -- Liberal member 1:
“Thanks very much. Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister for Defence. Will the Minister please inform the House how the Morrison government's strong and certain record on defence and national security keeps Australia and Australians safe and secure? And is the Minister aware of any alternative approaches?”

PAUL:
They do eat up time and independents like Steggall say it's just a chance for governments to blather on about how good they are and how bad the opposition is. 

Archival Tape -- Liberal member 2:
“Thank you, Speaker. My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister please inform the House how strong economic management helps to create jobs and opportunity for Australians? And is the Prime Minister aware of any alternative approaches?” 

PAUL:
It certainly was tedious in the previous Parliament, I can tell you.

Archival Tape -- Liberal member 3:
“Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My question is also to the Prime Minister. Well, the Prime Minister outlined to the House why it is important in these uncertain times for governments to make decisions for our nation's future with certainty and with strength. And is the Prime Minister aware of any alternative approaches?”

PAUL:
Well, whatever happens, the Liberal Party is wary as they watch the Labor Government play footsies with the independents. They're worried it will further sideline them from the action. But Paul Fletcher, the new manager of opposition business, did come out swinging about Albanese's promise to take Parliament more seriously. Fletcher pointed out that the government's new schedule for sitting days only allows for eight weeks of parliament before the end of the year. Fletcher called it remarkably light on and also, quote, a go slow schedule. Of course, his own side of politics didn't exactly break any records when it came to sitting days or getting business done in the chamber. So, yes, this parliament may genuinely be different, but Ruby. I suppose the more things change, the more they stay the same. After all, the cut and thrust of debate drives our democracy.

RUBY:
And Paul, just finally, Anthony Albanese set a pretty quick pace early on, going to Tokyo and holding his first national cabinet meeting. So what do we know about what's on the agenda for next week?

PAUL:
Well, Ruby, the prime minister, flies out on Sunday to attend the NATO meeting in Madrid. He's then flying up to Paris to, you know, kiss and make up with the French president, Emmanuel Macron. And he hasn't ruled out a flying visit to Kiev in Ukraine to show solidarity with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his battle and resistance of the brutal Russian invasion. 

RUBY:
Mm. And Paul, you're taking a well-earned break before parliament comes back, so we'll tax you in a few weeks. 

PAUL:
Yeah, I hope so, Ruby. In the meantime, I have every confidence you will mind the shop quite well in my absence. Bye!

[Advertisement]

RUBY:
Also in the news today,

The federal government says it will not increase its share of hospital funding before 2025. The announcement comes after the states called for an urgent financial boost to assist struggling hospital networks.

While the government has confirmed it will keep the national partnership agreement with the states and territories that expires in 2025, the government's health minister Mark Butler said he was urgently reviewing options to extend telehealth services before funding expires next week.

**

And over 900 people have been killed by a powerful earthquake in the south east of Afghanistan.

Authorities have warned the death toll will likely rise saying it's the deadliest quake the country has experienced in two decades. 

The Taliban's leader has pleaded with the international community “to help the Afghan people affected by this great tragedy and to spare no effort".

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Kara Jensen-Mackinnon, Alex Gow and Elle Marsh – Thanks so much for filling in as our host for the last couple of days, Elle.

Our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Scott Mitchell. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am. See you next week.

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am.

Guest

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper and a 30-year veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery.