At a Glance

Be careful what you wish for…Malcolm Turnbull’s desire to clear out the Senate crossbench and ensure a more workable Senate has turned into a potential nightmare.

In the new Senate, the crossbench has expanded from 8 to 11.

The Coalition now face a Senate composition as follows:

  • LNP – 30
  • ALP – 26
  • Greens – 9
  • One Nation – 4
  • Nick Xenophon Team – 3
  • Jacque Lambie – 1
  • Derryn Hinch – 1
  • Family First – 1
  • Liberal Democrats – 1

With 76 Senators, a majority of 39 is required to pass legislation.

Looking back on what both Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull had to say of the previous crossbench of 8 Senators, Abbott described them as ‘feral’ and Turnbull stated that the country had become ‘ungovernable’.

In the new Senate the Government will require 9 of 11 crossbenchers to achieve a majority of 39, when both the ALP and the Greens vote against the Government.

Senate Backfire

The Government went to extraordinary lengths to clear out the Senate crossbench.

It combined with the Greens to change the Senate voting rules and then it called a double dissolution election to ensure the entire Senate was up for re-election.

In a spectacular backfire – the Government faces an even more challenging Senate and only a 1 seat majority in the House of Representatives.  For the Turnbull Government, it is the worst of both worlds.

Consider this…for the Government to succeed in the Senate (when opposed by Labor and the Greens) it will require the support of 3 Xenophon Team Senators, 4 One Nation Senators, and 2 Senators from the remaining 4.

On every vote, where the Government are opposed by Labor and the Greens, the Coalition will always require the support of 4 One Nation Senators to pass its’ agenda.

During the last Parliament the ALP voted against the Government in the Senate 60% of the time and the Greens 70% of the time.

Labor and the Greens made a habit of opposing the Government on key pieces of legislation, (such as budget repair measures) continually frustrating the Government.

It is also worth noting that Jacque Lambie only voted with the Government 15% of the time whereas Bob Day from Family First voted with the Government over 50% of the time, as did Liberal Democrat David Leyonjhelm.

One Nation – Palmer United Party Mark II?

The Government may take initial comfort from the fact they only require 2 parties (Xenophon and One Nation) to deliver 7 of the 9 critical votes to pass legislation.

With 4 Senators, One Nation will come under enormous pressure from the Government, Opposition, the media and the public on every issue.

Other than Pauline Hanson with 20 years-experience in the public eye, her 3 One Nation colleagues are political novices.  They now find themselves thrust not just into the political limelight but into a position of being able to exercise significant political power.

The parallels with the Palmer United Party are quite compelling.  A group of Senators elected under a party banner, led by a populist leader who has been in the public spotlight a long time, suddenly finding themselves in a position to exert their new found influence.

Clive Palmer’s downfall was linked to his overbearing nature and his tendency to treat his colleagues with contempt.  On the other hand, Pauline Hanson’s challenge will be how to assert her authority and demonstrate political prowess to her new colleagues.

Don’t forget, One Nation have history when it comes to imploding.  In the 1998 Queensland state election, One Nation with 23% of the vote won 11 seats.  Within 12 months the party had split down the middle.  The newly elected Queensland One Nation Senator, Malcolm Roberts, has already stated that his loyalty is to Queensland first and hence will cross the floor if need to be to fulfil his duty to Queensland.

The likelihood of One Nation remaining a unified force until this end of this Parliament is slim.  The most likely scenario is that One Nation will implode (just like Palmer United did), with 4 Senators acting independently of each other.

Under this scenario, the Government could well go from having too coral 2 parties and 2 Senators to pass legislation to having too muster 1 party and 6 individual Senators on each and every vote.

For the Turnbull Government this would be a diabolical outcome.

Mandate, What Mandate…

Given the Government have been re-elected they can claim a mandate but the question is a mandate to do what?

The Government have been re-elected with a plan to enact a $50 billion corporate tax cut, implement changes to superannuation (from the May budget) and put before a joint sitting the ABCC and related bills to clean up corruption in the construction sector.

One of the biggest problems the Government is facing, is that everybody can claim a mandate – the Opposition, the Greens, One Nation, Nick Xenophon and all the other Senate crossbenchers.

All the non-Government parties are claiming a mandate to support the issues that they campaigned on.

The Government will claim a mandate to have the policies they campaigned on at the election supported by the Parliament.  Whereas the Senate crossbench and the other Senate parties, will exercise their mandate to support, amend or oppose the Government agenda as it sees fit.

Every major piece of Government legislation will be subject to compromise and horse-trading  – what will the eventual outcome…it’s just impossible to tell?


In Malcolm Turnbull’s desire to rid the Parliament of the pesky Senate crossbench the result is a political landscape more complex with a more diverse crossbench.

The Government will now require 9 of the 11 crossbench Senators to support any legislation that the Labor and the Green parties oppose.

They will be keen to ensure that One Nation, lead by Pauline Hanson with 4 Senators will vote as a block.  While this is likely to happen in the short term, I predict One Nation are likely to implode within 12-18 months.

I don’t see the Senate respecting the Prime Minister’s mandate anytime soon.

Key Government initiatives such as the $50 billion company tax cut are likely to be scaled back by the Senate and the Coalition will most likely have to compromise on its changes to superannuation.

If the Prime Minister thought the country was near ungovernable in the previous Parliament – I suspect, he hasn’t seen anything yet!  WATCH OUT…we have new sheriffs in town and they are looking to clean up Canberra.

For more information, in regards to this or any other public affairs issue you may require assistance with please don’t hesitate to contact me or visit the Insight Strategy website at


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