As the wind changes direction in the Australian Senate, Lachlan Marr wonders whether the newly-formed “coalition of common sense” is a load of hot air or if it will blow the Upper House down…
A strange multi-headed beast has emerged from the chambers of the Australian Senate.
Breathing populism and spewing rhetoric, the bizarre creature is at once pro-guns, anti-pokies, pro-defence and enthusiastic about motoring, and it is calling itself the “coalition of common sense.”
On Wednesday the 19th of November, the Senate voted 32 to 30 to undo the government’s changes to Labor’s Future of Financial Advice laws. Two key votes came from Senators Jacqui Lambie and Ricky Muir, who had both previously stated their support for the changes to the FoFA laws under the advice of their former patron, Clive Palmer.
The two announced their decision to vote down the changes to FoFA in a press conference alongside independent Senator Nick Xenophon and former Democratic Labor Party acolyte, John Madigan. A veritable smorgasbord of Australian populism, the raft of crossbench senators have indicated they will likely be voting together on a number of issues, including an inquiry into the negative effects of wind power.
Significantly, this move sees the Palmer United Party officially disunited, with Lambie breaking ranks after choosing to vote against the government, despite a deal that had previously been struck between the PUP and the Liberal/National Coalition.
With Lambie and Muir’s votes no longer secure, Clive Palmer has lost his position as the power broker in parliament. Now, any deal struck between the billionaire and the Federal Government will only amount to two assured Senate votes, meaning the mining magnate has already lost the balance of power he spent so much political and economic capital to secure.
Senator Lambie, possibly Australia’s answer to Sarah Palin, has been involved in a public dispute with the Palmer United Party founder and leader for the past few weeks. The choice to vote against the government and against her party saw Senator Lambie stripped of her position as deputy leader of the PUP, and on 24 November Lambie officially resigned from the party, choosing to occupy her Senate seat as an independent.
This bizarre assemblage of independent senators also includes Motoring Enthusiast Party member and former fellow supporter of the PUP, Ricky Muir. Muir came to the Senate through a series of preferencing deals, having won only 0.51 percent of the primary vote in the 2013 Federal election.
Often seeming overwhelmed by his unexpected position in the Senate, Muir had previously planned to vote with the Palmer United Party on FoFA as well as other issues. The formation of this new coalition of common sense could now see the Senator act more independently.
On the back of their successful vote against the changes to FoFA, the next move for this coalition is to nonsensically launch an enquiry into the negative effects of wind power. Senators Lambie and Muir have both voiced concerns about the supposedly dire effects on human health of wind turbines. David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democratic Party has also indicated his interest in acting with the coalition of commonsense on this issue, which the pro-gun Senator surprisingly sees as a fatal threat to his electorate.
Senator Nick Xenophon, who acted as spokesperson when announcing the formation of this coalition, has indicated a desire to see a greater diversity of renewable energy approaches in the government’s attempts to reach proposed renewable energy targets. The Senate wind farm enquiry has been launched with joint support from the Liberal/National Coalition and the coalition of common sense.
While the attention has been focused on the bitter split within PUP, the truly interesting aspect is, in fact, Nick Xenophon’s role in the formation of the coalition of common sense. The fiercely independent South Australian Senator has found a new footing as a Senate power broker. In securing the votes of people with views as diverse and divergent as Lambie, Muir, Leyonjelm and Madigan, the South Australian, who originally campaigned on an anti-pokies platform, finds himself essentially in control of the coveted balance of power in the Senate.
Whether the coalition of commonsense will be able to find common ground on other issues remains to be seen. Yet it seems a sensible conclusion that with a new coalition of unpredictable and interdependent independents in the Senate, it’s not clear which way the wind is blowing in Canberra.