Abbott has difficult days ahead

By Greg Ansley

Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Finally, more than a month after the election, Australia's new political landscape is beginning to take shape and ready itself for the start of the new Parliament, probably next month.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is back after spending much of the start of his first term overseas, making himself known to world leaders and mending the bridges he damaged during his bruising election campaign.

Labor has a new leader and a new front bench, even if the final allocation of portfolios has yet to be determined, and is donning its boots to do some serious headkicking from the Opposition benches.

And Clive Palmer, his own Lower House seat still in contention, is threatening some serious brawling in the Senate where, from July next year, his United Party will hold the balance of power in alliance with motoring enthusiast Senator Ricky Muir.

Abbott holds office with his authority in the Liberal Party cemented by Labor's crushing defeat, and with an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives.

The Coalition holds 90 seats to Labor's 55, with four held by the Greens, two by independents and one - if confirmed by a continuing recount - by Palmer.

Abbott has a far less certain Senate. Until July it will be dominated by Labor and the Greens, who together could frustrate Abbott's first legislative priority of axing the carbon tax.

When the new Senate sits Abbott will hold 33 seats, Labor 25, and the Greens nine. Palmer's United Party and Muir will control the balance with four seats, with one independent and one each from Family First and the Liberal Democratic Party.

Palmer will be a wildcard. He has already threatened to block all legislation put to the Senate unless he is given the same administrative and research resources as the Greens, regardless of his official entitlement.

Abbott has been trying to keep a public lid on politics, requiring ministers to seek his permission before speaking to the media, censoring information on asylum-seeker boats, and preparing his agenda out of the media glare. But his overseas trips were marked by diplomatic fence-mending - Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea had all been offended by his campaign rhetoric - while at home he and some of his most senior members were caught by claims they had fiddled their expenses. Some money has been repaid, other allegations denied, and Abbott has refused Labor demands for a review of the system.

But Labor has not pressed too hard, knowing from bitter experience that claims of expense rorting can rebound painfully - as they did when former Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus' attack was blunted by his admission he had claimed for a family trip to the snow.

The Government has also had an easy run so far because Labor has been absorbed in the long process of electing a leader under new rules that for the first time gave party members a say in the leadership.

That has now been settled by Sunday's election of Bill Shorten and the naming yesterday of his deputy, former health minister Tanya Plibersek, and the selection of Labor's new shadow ministry.

The line-up includes six new faces and there are six new ministers and 11 women, among them former finance minister Penny Wong, who will be Opposition Leader in the Senate. Portfolios will be allocated on Friday.

- NZ Herald

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