At a Glance

The Turnbull Government is committed to budget repair.

But the question we must ask is why will the Senate crossbench be motivated to support the Government in its budget repair endeavours, when supporting these measures will endanger their own political survival.

There is saying in Australian politics ‘back that horse self-interest every time’.

We have a Senate with 20 crossbenchers and 13 of those Senators will have self-interest front of mind every time they have to vote on proposed budget savings.

This has the potential to have profound consequences for the Government in achieving its primary policy objective – budget repair.

It’s all about the Numbers

It is always fraught for a Government to cut middle class welfare from those over whom it governs (without fear of facing their political wrath).

Let’s face it, who doesn’t like a handout?

Most taxpayers believe they are overtaxed, so receiving government largesse, is in many ways is a seen as a right.

This is why the challenge of budget repair is so difficult for the Turnbull Government, this is coupled with a 1 seat majority and a diverse Senate.

To achieve budget repair the Government will have to convince the community to put the national interest ahead of their own personal interest.

For our elected politicians, while they all make claims to want to act in the national interest, all too often decisions are made in political interest or self-interest.

An appeal to the national interest has been made all that much more difficult by both major parties who have engaged in ‘tit for tat’ politics.  Yet the Government is now asking the new Senate crossbench to vote in the national interest rather than their own political interest.

In this Parliament, there are 13 crossbench Senators who when voting for or against budget savings, political survival at the next election will be paramount when casting their vote.

How will they achieve Budget Repair?

13 of the 20 crossbench Senators will be up for re-election at the next poll, this presents a major challenge for the Turnbull Government.

These Senators include:

  • 6 Green Senators
  • 3 One Nation Senators
  • 1 Nick Xenophon Team Senator and;
  • Senators Bob Day, Derryn Hinch and David Leyonjhelm.

Each and every one of these Senators will be focused on their prospect for re-election.  For the Greens, that represents two thirds of their Senators, for One Nation, it is three quarters of their Senators.

It begs the question, how many of these 13 Senators who will face the electorate in less than 3 years will want to be seen to have supported tough and potentially unpopular savings measures?

This is the dilemma facing the Turnbull Government.  Traditionally, the Greens are not known for being fiscal conservatives and rarely support budget repair measures.

The Government will require 9 of the 11 crossbench Senators to pass budget cuts when opposed by Labor and the Greens.  Bear in mind of those 11 non-Green Senators, 7 will be facing re-election at the next federal poll.

This raises the question…why will it be in their political interest to pass budget cuts?

While delivering ‘tough love’ in the name of fiscal austerity may make economic sense and be the responsible thing to do in the national interest, as a crossbench Senator just having been elected – they may not see many votes in being seen to deliver a tough dose of fiscal austerity.

The crossbench Senators facing re-election will be seeking to make their political mark.  They need to establish their own political brand.  What better way to achieve this in the first instance than by opposing ‘harsh’ budget cuts.

In many ways they would be just following the lead of both major parties.  The Abbott Opposition opposed many Gillard Government cuts and the Shorten Opposition opposed many Abbott Government cuts.

Why then will the crossbench now think it falls upon their shoulders to assume the mantle of fiscal responsibility?

This is the uphill battle facing the Turnbull Government.  Not only does it have to try and convince 9 of 11 Senate crossbenchers to support ongoing budget repair in the national interest, but 7 of them will be fighting to hold their seats at the next poll to be held in less than 3 years.


For a Government that Tony Abbott described as being ‘in office but not in power’ trying to convince the Senate crossbench, in particular to support budget cuts was always going to be difficult.

Being a fiscally responsible crossbencher isn’t necessarily a vote winner.

Just as taking candy from a baby is likely to be met with a temper tantrum, cutting taxpayer funded largesse to financially stressed voters is unlikely to be rewarded at the ballot box.

Many of these crossbenchers are looking to improve their vote substantially at the next election to have any chance of being returned.

So, not only does the Prime Minister face the dilemma of needing to convince the Senate crossbench to support unpopular budget cuts, he needs to convince them to put the national interest ahead of their own potential political survival as well.

For the sake of the national interest, Malcolm Turnbull needs all the good luck he can find.

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

PHOTO CREDIT – The Australian

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