Minority government: public sector policies that can woo independent MPs

By Stephen Easton

Tuesday July 5, 2016

As the Australian Electoral Commission resumes counting postal and out-of-jurisdiction ballots, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could either reach a tiny majority or try to form a minority government — depending on what policy compromises that entails.

At this point the Coalition is confident of winning 75 or 76 seats, right on the margin between governing alone and needing to court the vote of at least one non-government member.

Past comments from the Prime Minister and other members of the Liberal and National parties suggest they would send the nation back to the polls rather than make any significant compromise to secure the minimum cross-bench support to pass supply bills and defeat any no-confidence vote.

If he does form minority government, two members Turnbull might look to are independent Cathy McGowan and the Nick Xenophon Team’s Rebekha Sharkie, who ousted the Coalition’s Jamie Briggs from the Adelaide seat of Mayo.

Cross-border commissioner to work with state bureaucracies

McGowan proposes a cross-border commissioner and if the swing against the government coupled with her own strengthened majority puts her in a position to make demands, it’s not out of the question that such a role could eventuate.

McGowan’s idea sounds like something the Coalition could support, as a measure that is focused on cutting red tape for businesses in population centres that sprawl across state boundaries, and she has been lobbying Coalition MPs for it since before the election.

The Member for Indi’s proposed cross-border commissioner aims to assist the Albury-Wodonga area she represents, but would also find at least some support in other places dealing with similar issues like Tweed Heads and Coolangatta.

It would be an interesting exercise in federal relations for an independent federal body, as McGowan envisages it, to start working with state governments and regulatory bodies on issues of mutual recognition.

For builders in her area, McGowan said the big red tape problems were “home warranty insurance duplication, multiple license categories and the need for mutual recognition for tradespeople and contractors”.

She has taken up the cause of the builders who want to fill out just one form for both Victoria and New South Wales agencies, like they used to.

“The introduction of a number of licenses and regulations that take into account working across state boundaries would help get rid of red tape,” McGowan said, pointing to transport operators and alcohol retailers as other examples of businesses that struggle from cross-border issues.

(Extremely) slim chance of federal ICAC

Xenophon’s team supports the creation of a federal ICAC among a set of accountability reforms, but The Saturday Paper reports the independent senator has ruled out making it a condition of support for supply.

NXT also stands a chance of another South Australian seat, Grey, where the count so far shows Liberal incumbent Rowan Ramsey with a precarious lead over the new minor party’s candidate Andrea Broadfoot. If NXT did pull of a surprise win in a second seat, Turnbull might see in them the possibility of securing two votes on the cross-benches from a single negotiation.

But the Xenophon team opposes a lot of what Turnbull’s team have been trying to get through parliament since 2013, so there is a lot of grounds for disagreement that could make any deal difficult.

And any potential kingmaker considering the merits of voting Turnbull back into power could well find that demanding a federal anti-corruption body is a deal-breaker for the Coalition, which has resolutely maintained its opposition to the idea. If the Liberal or National parties harbour any federal ICAC sympathisers, they are much better hidden than in the ALP.

Along with “establish a national anti-corruption commission” and push for more “timely and transparent” reporting of politicians’ entitlements, there’s a few other items on NXT’s government accountability to-do list.

The Public Interest Disclosure Scheme isn’t enough, according to NXT; whistleblower legislation “that protects the informant and compensates them for any loss of income due to their actions” is required.

NXT also stands on a belief that government services from any tier of government “must be delivered quickly and efficiently and be fully accountable to the public” and it is among those who want to take a serious look at reforming the federation with an eye to reducing “duplicated services” across the three levels.

Wildcards and outside chances

Neither Greens MP Adam Bandt, returned in the seat of Melbourne, nor Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie will make a deal with the Coalition. There’s more chance that North Queensland MP Bob Katter could be persuaded to back Turnbull, but he remains a wildcard as always.

There is also a much smaller chance of Labor forming a minority government, in which the Greens and NXT might play a role and make a federal anti-corruption body a real possibility. But just like the Coalition, Labor has steadfastly claimed they would not make any cross-bench deals to get into government throughout the campaign — and it would almost certainly take significant policy compromises to get them over the line this time.

There is certainly more support for the idea within the ALP than in the Coalition, even though a federal ICAC has not made it onto either party’s agreed policy platform.

On the eve of the election, ALP leader Bill Shorten agreed to support the continuation of the recent Senate inquiry into the need for some of form of national integrity commission, which was cut short by the double dissolution of parliament and only happened in the first place due to Labor’s blessing.

Issues like public sector integrity, accountability and transparency are much more commonly pushed by the major parties when they find themselves in opposition. But in an unlikely situation of Labor forming minority government, the influence of the cross-bench parties could well propel a national anti-corruption commission to the fore.

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