THE federal parliament’s last sitting week for the year looks likely to play out like every other since the July 2 election – with the government and opposition both flailing wildly at each other but never really landing a blow.
Monday should have been a rare day of tempered celebration for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as his government scored small wins on the backpacker tax negotiations and plans to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, but instead it served to magnify the relative impotence of the Coalition.
The backpacker tax only looked like winning approval after the government backed down from its proposed 32.5 per cent rate to the 15 per cent proposed by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation while negotiations over the ABCC centred on Senator Nick Xenophon’s demands that it be tied to a better deal for South Australia with regard to environmental water flows in the Murray River.
All the while opposition leader Bill Shorten remained sidelined due to his unwillingness to genuinely engage the government in fruitful negotiation on those bills. Instead, the opposition remains steadfast in its intention to oppose – whatever the cost.
And this lack of leadership from both Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten has left the tail wagging the dog in Australian politics.
Between them, Labor and the Coalition won 145 of the 150 Lower House seats at the July election and 56 of the 76 Senate spots, yet the independents and minor parties are wielding all the power.
And a Fairfax-Ipsos poll published on Monday shows support for the little guys is only increasing. The poll found just 36 per cent of respondents would now give their first preference vote to the Coalition, down six points since the election.
That should have been good news for Labor, only its primary support is down five points to 30 per cent over the same period. They are diabolical numbers for the major parties who have only themselves to blame.
At a time when the electorate is screaming out for change – any change – the major parties seem hellbent on doing things the same way that hasn’t worked for years.
Leaders are elected to lead, even at the risk of their political future. Malcolm Turnbull, in particular, needs to take control of his own party and put his stamp on its policies and politics.
Failure to do so simply creates a leadership void to be filled by minor parties whose rhetoric is far removed from their reality.