The Australian Greens and independent MPs have firmly put the minority Gillard government on notice that it can’t always rely on their support.
As the government lost a vote in parliament on an opposition motion to boost regional youth allowances, the cross-benchers also revealed they could block the proposed $8.4 billion sale of the Australian Securities Exchange to the Singapore Exchange.
Labor and the coalition both claimed wins in a morning parliamentary session preceded by backroom lobbying and intervention by Treasurer Wayne Swan.
Mr Swan narrowly avoided losing a vote on a coalition motion by convincing independents Andrew Wilkie and Rob Oakeshott and the Greens’ Adam Bandt he would release documents used to advise the tax review led by Treasury secretary Ken Henry.
But he said legal advice meant he was prevented from providing every document.
The numbers stayed the same on a coalition motion which criticised the government’s asylum-seeker policy and tried to reinstate temporary protection visas and reopen the Nauru processing centre.
School halls confusion
And another coalition motion seeking a judicial inquiry into the school building program did not go to a vote, when coalition strategist Christopher Pyne was told he did not have the numbers.
But the bill will go to Senate.
Mr Pyne later told reporters it was a “tactical” move and he remained committed to the inquiry.
Independents who nominally support the government – Tony Windsor, Mr Oakeshott and Mr Wilkie – as well as WA National Tony Crook and independent Bob Katter, backed the coalition’s youth allowance motion.
Mr Oakeshott told reporters after the votes he expected to see more private member’s motions and bills.
“This is trying to reflect the importance of the house and … that people are back in the house, and that is an important day to celebrate,” he said.
Mr Wilkie said Labor MPs would have been in favour of improving youth allowances but were told to vote along party lines.
‘The political lobotomy’
Mr Bandt said he hoped to see a free vote on a private member’s bill to come to parliament at the November sessions to allow the recognition of same-sex marriages.
“We are offering members of the major parties opportunities to speak out on matters that are important to them, free from the requirements of the political lobotomy,” Mr Bandt said, referring to a criticism of Labor’s party discipline made earlier in the week by Labor senator Doug Cameron.
House leader Anthony Albanese said the government would win some votes and lose others in the lower house.
“This is a parliament that is passing the government’s legislation but also allowing issues of concern to private members to be brought up,” he said.
Mr Bandt, Mr Crook and Mr Wilkie told reporters in Canberra they did not support the sale of the ASX to the SGX, with the Greens prepared to move a disallowance motion after regulations paving the way for the deal came to parliament.
If the government accepts the regulator’s advice in favour of the takeover then it would need to secure the support of the coalition or other independents to give the parliamentary tick to the deal.