Western Australia’s only Federal Parliamentarian independent of the major party machines, Senator Zhenya ‘Dio’ Wang, has called on the Government to come clean on potential plans to send Australians on an election ‘blind date’ as early as May in order to avoid handing down a Budget disaster by being in caretaker mode.
“Contradictory comments by the Attorney-General and Employment Minister this week about whether the Government is willing or not to negotiate with crossbenchers on amendments to the ABCC Bill suggest the Prime Minister’s so-called ‘inner sanctum’ has already banked on the Bill failing to pass the Senate,” said Senator Wang.
“But if this so-called trigger bill to an early double-dissolution election is voted down in the first days of the early recall of the Senate on April 18, how on earth will the PM publicly justify waiting another fortnight for the rescheduled Budget week to carry out his threat and pull that trigger to dissolve both houses?
“And with a Saturday poll required at least 33 days after the issue of the writs by the Governor-General when both houses are dissolved, Australians could be facing an election ‘blind date’ in May – which would, in a neat coincidence for a Government in caretaker mode – absolve them of having to hand down a Budget that must be of such internal concern that not even the Treasurer is told when Budget Day is.”
Senator Wang said Australians deserved certainty and stability from Government, not sophisticated political games of contrived chaos that cost taxpayers $1 million a day to recall Parliament three weeks early, just to force a vote on industrial relations legislation that could have been routinely considered in any of the usual Parliamentary sitting weeks throughout May and June.
“But that timing would inconveniently require the Government to hand down a Budget,” said Senator Wang.
He said scepticism about the Government’s sincerity on its claims the ABCC Bill was a critical issue of national importance had been fuelled by the Government’s choice last week to use the final routine Parliamentary sittings scheduled before Budget week to instead do a back-room deal with the Greens to stop the election of voices independent of major party machines to the Senate.
“When the Government unexpectedly announced its hasty deal with the Greens to lock out small voices from the Senate, there was a sudden cooling of discussions with my office, which had been ongoing since the start of the year about improving the ABCC Bill in line with the findings of the TURC report released at Christmas,” he said.
“So if the Government has no plans to govern in good faith consultations with democratically-elected Senators it wants to wipe out in a double-dissolution; if it simply wants the ABCC Bill to fail so it can run from a Budget disaster under the cover of a chaotic double-dissolution election, then don’t waste $1 million a day of taxpayers’ money by bringing back Parliament early just to play politics.
“Instead, have the courage of your convictions and take your industrial relations agenda and your Budget policies to a general election, without all the contrived chaos and confusion of a double-dissolution election designed to distract voters from their glaring policy vacuum and Budget black holes.”
Senator Wang said he was also deeply concerned that important work of the Senate would be axed in the event of a politically-motivated double-dissolution election.
This includes a groundbreaking inquiry into the establishment of a federal anti-corruption agency – with the power to scrutinise everyone from blue and white-collar workers and employers right up to politicians and party donors, and through to organisations from banks to bureaucracies to political parties – which Senator Wang recently secured with support from Labor and crossbenchers, despite the Government voting against it.
“A double-dissolution election would end this long-overdue Parliamentary inquiry into the establishment of a National Integrity Commission before a public hearing could even be held,” he warned.
Senator Wang said he had drawn attention to this risk in urgent correspondence to crossbenchers this week, which outlined ABCC amendments he had been finalising with the Government prior to the Bill being shelved in favour of passing laws restricting voters from electing non-major party Senators.
“These ABCC amendments have been drafted to balance accountability provisions for unions and workers with employers – for instance, to penalise corporates for sham contracting activity and wages exploitation – as well as to provide checks and balances for the use of coercive powers,” he said.
“However, since it was outside the scope of the ABCC Bill to expand it into a federal anti-corruption commission, we established the inquiry into the establishment of a National Integrity Commission to de-politicise debate on the ABCC and ensure it delivers on the broader recommendations of TURC.
“An NIC is vital to consider the additional material and issues about the wider issue of systemic corruption raised in the TURC report and I call on the Government must make an election commitment to Australians that the work of this inquiry will continue with bipartisan support – no matter what the election outcome.
“The Prime Minister now says the time for playing games is over, and I urge him to practise what he preaches and not play politics with Australians by picking a poll date motivated by political power games over good policies.
“These political power games have already been demonstrated by the top priority given to Senate voting changes – it’s quite clear this Government treats the Senate like stacking a House of Cards rather than as a democratically elected house of review.
“Just like House of Cards’ Frank Underwood is all about himself, speculation around an early double-dissolution election is all about protecting the interests of the Coalition. But while Underwood can bury his problems in graveyards, this Government’s only solution to its internal problems is a double-dissolution.
“Any responsible political party should put the national interest at the forefront of any decision-making.”