17 April 2016
by Adam Gartrell

Early election firms as Turnbull government loses hope on ABCC bill

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government could by the end of the week have its trigger for calling an early election, but is unlikely to act on it until May 5.

The Turnbull government has all but given up on getting its building industry watchdog laws through the Senate, meaning it could have its early election trigger in place by the end of this week.

Parliament will resume on Monday for three weeks of special sittings, culminating with the federal budget.

The government claims the building watchdog will quash corruption and boost productivity - Peter Martin examines how effective it was last time around. While the lower house is scheduled to sit only on Monday and Tuesday, the Senate will sit until it has dealt with the government's Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation.

But multiple senior government sources now concede there is next to no chance the bill will get through.

Negotiations with the Senate crossbenchers have stalled, making a July 2 double dissolution election a near certainty.

The government needs six of the crossbenchers on side to pass the bill, which Labor and the Greens oppose. But it's still confident of getting the votes of only two: Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm.

Senator Leyonhjelm believes the bill is likely to fail at its second reading, meaning it will not even make it to the stage where amendments are moved and debated. He thinks a vote could occur by Thursday.

"My feeling is we've been locked into a double dissolution for about the last three weeks and that the only thing that will stop that from happening is if Turnbull thinks he's going to lose," Senator Leyonhjelm said.
"We've been locked into a double dissolution for about the last three weeks and ... the only thing that will stop that from happening is if Turnbull thinks he's going to lose,'' says Senator David Leyonhjelm.

Labor paved the way for a swift resolution last week by declaring it will not stand in the way of a vote. That means there is unlikely to be a repeat of the epic late-night sittings on voting reform that occurred last month.

Independent Nick Xenophon, who is inclined to oppose the bill and also believes it will fail, thinks the debate could stretch into next week.

"I don't think anyone knows how this week is going to pan out," he said. "But I think it's going to be incredibly messy and ugly."

The ABCC bill – introduced and first rejected under the Abbott government – aims to resurrect a Howard government-era building industry watchdog. The government also wants to pass its Registered Organisations Commission bill, aimed at improving governance in unions and employer bodies.

Fellow crossbenchers John Madigan, Ricky Muir, Glenn Lazarus and Jacqui Lambie have made it clear they intend to vote against the ABCC. The Palmer United Party's Dio Wang also appears inclined to oppose it.

Senator Lambie indicated that Employment Minister Michaelia Cash had appeared to have given up on winning her vote.

"Senator Cash is like me: she knows not to waste time flogging a dead horse," Senator Lambie said.

Labor will seek to pursue the government over the ongoing donations drama in NSW that has ensnared cabinet secretary Arthur Sinodinos and pressure it over Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's plan for a banking royal commission.

Labor believes the lower house should sit for as long as the Senate does, accusing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of avoiding question time by having the House of Representatives sit for only two days.

"This week Malcolm Turnbull will hit Australians with the cost of his stunt sitting of Parliament and then run away from proper scrutiny of his actions," Tony Burke, the manager of opposition business, said.

The government will also introduce legislation to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal.

It appears to have the numbers to get this bill through the Senate and a number of crossbenchers want it dealt with before the ABCC.

If Mr Turnbull does get his double dissolution trigger it is expected he will deliver the May 3 budget and allow Mr Shorten to deliver his May 5 budget reply speech before officially calling the election.