29 July 2016
by David Wroe

With one-seat majority confirmed, Malcolm Turnbull's job of managing his party is that bit harder

The confirmed loss of the Townsville-based seat of Herbert leaves Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull with the most wafer-thin of majorities.

Whether Malcolm Turnbull wound up with a one-seat or a two-seat majority, life was going to be tough for the next three years.

But the confirmed loss of the Townsville-based seat of Herbert, which leaves Mr Turnbull with the most wafer-thin of majorities, is a psychological and a practical blow.

No Coalition MP will be able to cross the floor. Even an abstention would force the Speaker to cast a tie-break vote, creating the appearance of party weakness. Coalition discipline will need to be watertight.

Coalition figures have been fond of saying that a narrow majority will enforce its own discipline. That's true in the sense that it forces the party to stick together like glue. But on whose terms will it stick together?

Mr Turnbull's challenge of managing his right flank becomes that bit harder because the handful of lower house MPs who might actually take the rare step of defying party discipline at the point of voting in Parliament will need to be placated down to the last man or woman.

Those passionate outliers within the party will be empowered by knowing Mr Turnbull cannot afford to lose a single vote.

Such a relatively powerful position for the most restive elements of the Coalition will bear upon looming internal battles over issues such as the controversial superannuation changes. Queenslander George Christensen has threatened to cross the floor on that issue.

And for any MP thinking of retiring, they can forget it unless they're in a very safe seat. A by-election gone wrong would spell the end of majority government. That goes even for someone like Tony Abbott who, should he find himself languishing on the back bench and questioning his purpose for staying in Parliament, has to think twice about whether his seat of Warringah isn't vulnerable to an ambitious independent candidate.

Above all, there must be no Coalition version of Craig Thomson, whom Labor was forced to suspend from the party over his credit card abuse only then to rely on his vote – a shabby look.

On the bright side, Julia Gillard's government managed to legislate pretty effectively with a minority government, relying on independents with whom she had loose agreements.

It's not impossible. But the headaches will be precisely twice as acute trying to do it all with a buffer of one seat, rather than two.