Labor will keep its foot on the Turnbull government’s throat when Parliament returns in September, while Mr Shorten will dangle a $1.6 billion dollar carrot before Western Australian voters aggrieved over their GST share.
And Queensland LNP senator and power broker Barry O’Sullivan is in Labor’s sights, with calls for him to be removed as chair of a Senate committee because of a potential conflict of interest.
Labor strategists told Fairfax Meda that when Parliament returns on September 4 they will capitalise on the political uncertainty created by the looming High Court case and try again to push through laws to set up a banking royal commission and protect penalty rates.
This will increase the sense of “chaos in Parliament”, as one said, and keep Mr Turnbull on the back foot at a time when he is trailing badly in the opinion polls.
The opposition will keep pushing for Mr Joyce and deputy Nationals leader Fiona Nash to step down from cabinet – as former resources minister Matt Canavan has done – and for the government to not to make major decisions nor put up contentious legislation while there is a cloud over senior ministers.
The Turnbull government has been rocked by the unfolding citizenship fiasco and faces many more months of uncertainty, with the High Court set to examine whether seven MPs – including Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce – were dual citizens and therefore not validly elected in hearings starting October 10.
The Prime Minister hit back at suggestions his government was in chaos and again called on Mr Shorten to release paperwork proving he renounced his British citizenship in 2006.
“You know, you read the media and they say ‘Oh, the Parliament’s in chaos, the government is paralysed. Complete rubbish. We are legislating,” Mr Turnbull said on Friday.
He insisted that Mr Joyce, Senator Nash, independent senator Nick Xenophon and Senator Canavan will all be found by the High Court to have been validly elected.
If Mr Joyce is found to have not been validly elected by the High Court, a byelection with a 33-day campaign will have to be called, which will extend until the end of the year – or even early 2018 – the political uncertainty over the government’s one seat majority.
The federal opposition has five seats in Western Australia in its sights at the next election – including three held by ministers Christian Porter, Michael Keenan and Ken Wyatt – and Bill Shorten will announce a new $1.6 billion infrastructure fund on Saturday in a direct pitch to WA voters.
In Perth, Mr Shorten’s Saturday announcement of new “Fair Share for WA” fund is designed to put the federal Liberal government on the back foot over WA’s share of the GST, which has fallen to 34?? in the dollar.
If Labor wins office, the funding will be in the first budget and it will bring funding for WA up to an equivalent of 70?? – though the complicated distribution formula will not be altered.
The former WA Liberal government of Colin Barnett received an electoral drubbing earlier this year and federal Labor – which has struggled to hold more than a handful of seats in the west – is desperate to turn this around.
Also on Friday, Labor senator Murray Watt wrote to Attorney-General George Brandis and demanded Senator O’Sullivan be sacked as chair of the Senate’s rural, regional affairs and transport committee because of his stake in a family construction company, the Newlands Group.
Newlands has been awarded contracts on Queensland infrastructure projects such as the Toowoomba Second-Range crossing, which is 80 per cent funded by the Commonwealth government and Senator Watt said, given Senator O’Sullivan’s committee oversees the Department of Infrastructure and the Toowoomba project is administered by that department, he should be removed.
The government will not just be facing off against Labor as key senate powerbroker Nick Xenophon – who will also have his case referred to the High Court when Parliament next resumes – has joined the Greens and other crossbenchers in demanding a full audit of MPs’ citizenship status.
Despite his own dual-citizenship woes, One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts – who has admitted he did not return his official renunciation forms to the British authorities until after nominations for the 2016 election had closed – also supports an audit.
with Cara Waters