PRESENTER: Savings worth more than $112 billion over the next decade are yet to pass the Parliament, according to new research. The Parliamentary Budget Office has tallied the cost of Abbott Government measures that have been announced, but not yet legislated. Many were part of the May Budget. Passing contentious bills through this Senate has always been tricky for the Coalition, but the process seems to be becoming even more complicated, as James Glenday reports from Canberra.
JAMES GLENDAY: Last night, the Government had another defeat in the Senate.
SPEAKER: There being 30 ayes and 33 nos, the matter is resolved in the negative.
JAMES GLENDAY: A bill to introduce a new watchdog for registered organisations like unions and business groups was voted down by the Opposition, the Greens and a couple of crossbenchers. Labor's Anne Urquhart says the legislation was excessive.
ANNE URQUHART: This is a Government that can't be trusted with workplace relations.
JAMES GLENDAY: The Employment Minister Eric Abetz is disappointed, but undeterred.
MINISTER ABETZ: The Government is committed to pursuing this fundamental reform to ensure that the Michael Williamsons and Craig Thomsons of tomorrow don't get a chance to rip off hard-working union members.
JAMES GLENDAY: But passing bills through Parliament is becoming even more complicated for the Coalition. Yesterday, Clive Palmer announced his two Senators would abstain from voting for legislation due to what he calls "policy and leadership uncertainty in the Abbott Government". His position now seems to have hardened further.
CLIVE PALMER: We won't be abstaining, we'll be voting against major legislative proposals. The Government should be in a caretaker mode while all this rubbish is going on.
JAMES GLENDAY: Caretaker mode, what do you mean by that?
CLIVE PALMER: Well, we don't know who will be the leader, we don't know what the policies will be, and we don't know whether they'll chop and change them. I mean, Australia needs some confidence.
JAMES GLENDAY: Independent Jacqui Lambie is also voting against all legislation as part of a long-running dispute over Defence pay. So, for the Government, getting the numbers is more and more like herding cats, and Mr Palmer says his position might not change until the next election.
CLIVE PALMER: Oh, I think it's a very difficult one. I mean, they need six out of eight Senators to get anything up, don't they? And if they've got people voting against them, I can't see how they can possibly do that.
JAMES GLENDAY: With that reality in mind, the Federal Cabinet met last night to continue to try and smooth out some policy problems. Backbenchers expect to hear details in a party room meeting today. But pinning the Government down on exactly where it now stands on contentious issues is tricky. For example, the Employment Minister Eric Abetz won't say if his party is still committed to making young people wait six months for the dole.
MINISTER ABETZ: I'm not going to pre-empt anything that the Government may or may not say in that space.
JAMES GLENDAY: Is it still Government policy?
MINISTER ABETZ: I'm not going to pre-empt where the Government is in relation to this matter.
JAMES GLENDAY: Is it good policy though?
MINISTER ABETZ: Look, I'm not going to comment on the aspect which…on this particular aspect.
JAMES GLENDAY: One thing is clear – the Senate stoushes are coming at a cost. According to new research from the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, savings worth more than $112 billion over the next decade are yet to pass the Parliament. Most of the measures came from last year's Federal Budget.
PRESENTER: James Glenday reporting.