Grattan / New players in ‘Bradbury’ Senate a gift to government’s company tax cut prospects

YET another new Senate crossbencher was sworn in this week. But like several other recent arrivals, Tim Storer is not in the clothes he wore when he was elected. 

Michelle Grattan

Storer, from South Australia, replaced a former senator from the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT), Skye Kakoschke-Moore, a casualty of the citizenship saga. Storer had been fourth on the NXT ticket. By the time he arrived in Canberra, he had fallen out with the party and so he is an independent.

As a free floater, he has become a key to the government’s suddenly improved prospects of passing its tax cuts for big companies, which would take their tax rate from 30% to 25% by 2026-27. Settling into his new surrounds, Storer had the adrenaline hit of being targeted by government, opposition and vested interests ahead of the tax vote, due next week.

These A$35.6 billion worth of business tax cuts – part of the government’s $65 billion ten-year package and applying to companies with turnovers above $50 million annually – were effectively dead last year. Now, because of the Senate’s goings and comings, they’re seen to have a good chance of passing, with the crossbench negotiations being run by the infinitely patient and usually effective Mathias Cormann, finance minister and Senate leader.

With Labor and Greens opposed to the cut, the government needs nine of the 11 non-Greens crossbenchers. If Storer had stayed with the NXT, the legislation would still be dead, because the NXT, opposed to cuts for large companies, would have retained the numbers to stop it. Without him, the NXT has gone from three to two senators and so lost its veto power.

This Senate is without doubt the strangest in our history. Of the 20 original crossbenchers (including nine Greens) elected at the 2016 double dissolution, only 12 are still there.

Two Greens (Scott Ludlam, Larissa Waters), two from One Nation (Malcolm Roberts, Rod Culleton), two from the Nick Xenophon Team (Nick Xenophon, Kakoschke-Moore), Bob Day (from the now-defunct Family First) and Jacqui Lambie (Jacqui Lambie Network) are out of the parliament. All but one were felled by various parts of the Constitution’s Section 44. Xenophon (whose citizenship received a tick from the High Court) resigned to try his fortunes in the South Australian election, a move that didn’t turn out so well.

Since the 2016 election, there has been movement between the Liberal Party and the crossbench. Cory Bernardi quit the Liberals, and now sits as an Australian Conservative. Lucy Gichuhi, the next on the Family First ticket, replaced Day – she sat first as an independent and then joined the Liberals.

Of the 11 of the current non-Greens crossbench, only five were sitting there at the start of the term – two Hansonites (Pauline Hanson, Brian Burston), Stirling Griff from the NXT, Derryn Hinch of the Justice Party, and Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm.

Five of the other six came into parliament since the election: Rex Patrick (NXT), Peter Georgiou (One Nation), Fraser Anning, a One Nation replacement who immediately declared himself an independent, Steve Martin, who replaced Lambie but sits as an independent, and Storer. Only Bernardi was elected in 2016.

Martin was a gift for the government – he quickly announced he supports the tax legislation, to which Lambie was opposed. In his maiden speech this week, Martin quoted a headline in his local paper, The Advocate, describing him as “Bradbury of the Senate”, a reference to the Australian speed-skater Steven Bradbury who won Olympic gold in 2002 when all the other racers crashed out.

“We now have a small army of Bradburys in this chamber, thanks to Section 44 of the Constitution,” he said, in what’s becoming a popular joke around the upper house.

PARTY THEN (ELECTED 2016) NOW
PAULINE HANSONS’S ONE NATION Pauline Hanson, Brian Burston, Malcolm Roberts, Rodney Culleton Pauline Hanson, Brian Burston, Peter Georgiou
NICK XENOPHON TEAM Nick Xenophon, Stirling Griff, Skye Kakoschke-Moore Stirling Griff, Rex Patrick
DERRYN HINCH’S JUSTICE PARTY Derryn Hinch Derryn Hinch
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS David Leyonhjelm David Leyonhjelm
JACQUI LAMBIE NETWORK Jacqui Lambie nil
FAMILY FIRST Bob Day nil
AUSTRALIAN CONSERVATIVES nil Cory Bernardi
INDEPENDENT nil Fraser Anning, Tim Storer, Steve Martin

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