Gordon Smith

About Gordon Smith

Journalist by day, cunning linguist by night. A passion for politics, hypnotically involved in human rights. An Australian born with a Japanese tongue, hoping to hold the big wigs in government to account.

Want to annoy everyone? It’s easy as ABCC

Approx Reading Time-12It took two PMs, a double dissolution, an election and some backroom dealing, but the ABCC bill has passed the senate. But what did those who voted make of it?


The legislation that triggered this year’s double dissolution election (promptly not given a mention until after said election) finally passed the upper house this morning, following many weeks of senate come-hithering and policy flirting.

The Australian Building and Construction Commission – enacted in 2005, repealed in 2012 by the Gillard government, and set to be repealed again if Labor’s language in recent interviews holds firm – passed 36 votes to 33.

Labor and the Greens voted against the bill, with much of the remaining cross-bench voting with the government after weeks of public pandering and much wooing.

The legislation entered the fray under the watchful eye of Tony Abbott, who introduced the measures in 2015, before being knocked back by a senate he described as “feral”.

A fresh set of senators from a new and improved One Nation and new-car-smelling Xenophon team, finally saw the bill passed, thereby avoiding the government requiring a joint sitting – something unheard of since the tumultuous days of Whitlam.

Of course, passing legislation isn’t easy, much less so when you don’t have control of the upper house. For your cross-bench to be a happy-bench, negotiation is key. Fortunately, the 2016 senate is as a hive mind of intelligent, reasoned debate.

While David Leyonhjlem backed away from his maligned Adler pickle, in which he said he believes the only reason people have an aversion to guns is because of an “emotional reaction” to the Port Arthur massacre, and that “ are used incredibly safely” and “are a lot of fun”, “not all about killing people.”

Leyonhjelm voted with the government, It may have been a backflip, but a backflip that was roundly applauded by those on the judging panel.

The same cannot be said for South Australia’s Nick Xenophon and his mighty morphin’ legislation fighters of the Nick Xenophon Team.

The Xenomorphs initially planted a firm foot, telling the Coalition that their team’s three-man band would not vote for any legislation until the Murray-Darling Basin Plan could be guaranteed adequate resources.

Xenophon demanded a guarantee of 450 gigalitres of water being returned to the river in exchange for his votes for the government’s industrial relations bills.

That was until a spectacular three and a half turn with pike this morning, when Turnbull, famed for his lecturing of the big banks, wrote to South Australian Premier Jay Weatherall promising greater scrutiny of the plan.

“I propose that we make the progress of the Murray-Darling Basin plan a standing item at every COAG meeting regularly monitoring and comparing progress of the plan,” the letter read.

Satisfied in the letter outlining a “much better process”, Xenophon pledged that his team was “now ready to judge the ABCC on its merits.”

Xenophon Team member with aforementioned letter

Xenophon Team member with aforementioned letter

With amendments made requiring governments to detail where materials and workers originate from on projects costing $4 million or more , the Xenophon Team voted for the legislation, environment be damned.

However, it wouldn’t be an upper house vote without the Lambie factor. Jacqui Lambie, who previously has gushed about the merits of plebiscites – and pitched a “super plebiscite” on same-sex marriage, indigenous recognition and voluntary euthanasia for the next election – stuck to her guns and voted against the legislation, describing it as “crap”.

“It is bad, poorly drafted legislation, no matter how many times you go back to draft it, no matter how many amendments you put through, it is crap.”

“If it wasn’t crap you would’ve got it right in the first place and we wouldn’t have had to go to a double-d.”

The move came after Lambie pledged to vote against the proposal on Q&A in March this year, when a ballsy Turnbull threatened – and eventually followed through with a double dissolution election if the senate did not co-operate with government agenda.

“I will be voting no to the ABCC… I will not be blackmailed. I will not have a gun to my head. That is not the way to play politics.”

The government had been banking on an ABCC success story, following months of scandal and stuff ups, including what Labor describes as a “kickback” scandal between the Attorney General and the Western Australian Liberal party, and the government losing several votes in the House.

So where does that leave us? The government tells us that the re-establishment of the ABCC will see an end to “dodgy union bosses” and put on notice that the “tough cop” is “back on the beat.”

But those opposed are not convinced. The Greens’ Adam Bandt said that the fight was not over and that half of the cross-bench had proven themselves to be “government lapdogs”.

Both Labor and the Greens have also lined up to lash Xenophon for “selling out” his state.

Labor’s Penny Wong said that she and South Australia wanted Xenophon to stand up for the state, while the Green’s Sarah Hanson-Young said it was “sad, but predictable.”

“Senator Xenophon might talk a big game, but time after time he squibs it in the end.”

The last sitting week of parliament has seen a goal scored for a government in desperate need of some good news. Still, it’s hardly comfort of a party with things under control.

After seeing opposition motions passed almost unanimously, asking the government to explain failures in acting on malpractice in the banking sector, the government losing control of the House due to nine MPs having headed home early, and the embroiled Attorney General sledging his Queensland colleagues, the passing seems more like patching a hole in a burning wall than some great cause for celebration.

Turnbull may have closed 2016 on a positive, but his Christmas break is set to be anything but merry.

Oh dear.


Share via