Student politics is brutal but its lessons are thorough; by the age of 19, I’d learned how to pull knives out of my back without wincing, how to count a senate-style multi-candidate preferential ballot and that a true politician will do anything – anything – to be re-elected. I’ve been reminded of these last two valuable lessons in the context of the agreement the Greens and Nick Xenophon have made with the Coalition to change Australia’s senate voting system, and of an admission that Malcolm Turnbull made on radio last week that contained nothing short of a threat to the existence of the Australian senate cross-bench should they not give him his way on some union-busting legislation. One can imagine Canberra has had a most talkative long weekend.
After the election of 2013, the Greens lost the senate balance of power to a diverse group of minor and micro-party senators; the government need six of the eight to pass their legislation without Labor or the Greens. Initially believed to represent the conservative side of politics, all eight, in various capacities, have since committed the politically unforgivable sin of not only thinking for themselves, but voting that way, frustrating Coalition attempts to legislate policy priorities – like the May 2014 budget – ever since.
The legislation Turnbull wants now is the resurrection of the Howard-era ABCC – an imposed, Coalition-designed governance over the construction industry aimed at crippling the militant CFMEU. Liberal strategists have resorted to an extraordinary senatorial bait-and-switch; Turnbull said he would call a double dissolution election unless the cross-benchers back the ABCC.
Elections pose a threat to every politician, but that posed to the cross-bench by this double dissolution is potentially annihilating due to a clever piece of Turnbull politicking; the Coalition have struck a deal with independent senator Nick Xenophon and the Greens to vote up this week a change to the very means by which senators are elected. Should it happen, it will make the reelection of any cross-benchers very difficult.