Cross party roadblock up ahead for Abbott

By Greg Ansley

Australia's PM-elect must get changes past a complex Senate that doesn't support him.

Abbott said the new micro-parties, as well as Labor and the Greens, should abide by the mandate Australian voters gave the new Government. Photo / AP
Abbott said the new micro-parties, as well as Labor and the Greens, should abide by the mandate Australian voters gave the new Government. Photo / AP

Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott flew back into Canberra yesterday for more briefings and to finalise the Cabinet he wants sworn in by early next week.

He intends implementing his agenda as soon as he can, in a new Parliament he will control with a majority of about 30 seats. Its first sitting is expected late next month or early November. "What I'm most conscious of now is the need to purposefully and methodically set about the business of the nation and set about implementing the particular commitments we gave to the Australian people," Abbott told Fairfax Radio.

But sitting square in his path will not only be a bloc of what may be 35 Labor and Greens senators, but also up to eight cross-benchers elected to the Upper House with tiny total votes but fortunate preference allocations.

The final shape of the new Senate may not be known for weeks. Its potential new members range from two candidates of mining magnate Clive Palmer's United Party to Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, whose party supports legal cannabis and the unfettered right to bear arms, and the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts' Ricky Muir, caught on YouTube footage discovered by the Age flinging kangaroo faeces in a poo fight with mates.

Others represent the Sports Party and the conservative Family First, which held a Senate seat from 2004 to 2010. One Nation founder Pauline Hanson could also return to Canberra.

Most of the micro-parties' policies are hazy or all but absent, leaving Abbott with a mystifying and eclectic maze through which he will have to negotiate his policies. The Palmer platform supports the abolition of the carbon tax - Abbott's first big order of business - but his likely Tasmanian senator, Jacqui Lambie, says Australia needs the tax and she'll vote against axing it. Leyonhjelm believes the tax should go, but does not support Abbott's alternative direct action plan or his paid parental leave scheme.

But Abbott is probably more likely to succeed than he is with the existing Senate, which ends next July. The Greens and Labor intend frustrating not only his repeal of the carbon tax but also a bagload of other legislation. The new cross-benchers appear to sit in the right or centre-right of politics and are likely to be relatively sympathetic to Abbott. "I think the Senate will end up being messy, yes, but we can work it." said Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne.

Abbott said the new micro-parties, as well as Labor and the Greens, should abide by the mandate Australian voters gave the new Government. "In the end they all need to respect the Government of our nation has a mandate and the Parliament should work with the Government of the day to implement its mandate."

But the rise of the micros has angered mainstream politicians. They say the new parties manipulated the preference system, or benefited from the labyrinth of conflicting preference deals, to win seats their real level of support did not merit. In Western Australia, the Sports Party won fewer than 300 primary votes - under 0.25 per cent - yet appears likely to get a Senate seat through preferences. In New South Wales, critics claim the Liberal Democrats benefited from voter confusion with the Liberals. They appear to have won about 9 per cent.

Coalition Senate leader Eric Abetz attacked the manipulation of preferences for "bringing the democratic process into disrepute", and Abbott will consider changes to the voting system after a parliamentary review.

Political consultant Glenn Druery, who advised some of the micros on the use of preferences, said their election had given small groups a say. "The minor parties did not invent the system," he told the ABC. "This system was invented by the major parties to keep small parties out. I don't think they ever really figured out that someone would learn how to use the system."

Micro power: What the minnows want

Liberal Democrats
*Support voluntary euthanasia, legalisation of cannabis, gay marriage, the right to bear arms for self-defence, hunting and collecting.
*Want to rein in defence spending, end foreign aid except for "short-term humanitarian needs" and to recognise Taiwan.
*Support the sale of all state-owned enterprises, including the ABC, power companies and transport services.

Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party
*Intends ensuring new laws are "balanced, moderate" and protect family lifestyles, and wants the nanny-state out of Australians' lives.
*Wants motorists to be able to modify and restore vehicles "based upon their own freedom of expression", with better roads and driver education.
*Believes Australians have the right to unimpeded recreational use of public land, notably by off-road vehicles, while protecting the environment "for the survival of mankind".

Australian Sports Party
*Promotes "healthy, well-balanced lifestyles" and supports increased participation in sports.
*Wants sports included in school curricula and to maximise free use of public facilities such as parks, reserves and leisure centres.

Palmer United Party
*Wants to abolish the carbon tax and boost mining.
*Seeks a review of refugee policies to protect the nation while providing opportunities for refugees to improve their lifestyles and futures.
*Believes that regions that produce wealth should keep most of it.

- NZ Herald

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