Simon Sheikh's Bold Senate Predictions For 2014… You're Gunna Wanna Read Number 1

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With just days to go until the new Senate takes the reigns, it’s time for some bold political predictions. Here’s three to get the ball rolling.

 

1. Cory Bernardi will leave the Liberal Party and join Family First

‘The leader of a spearhead movement’ – these are the first words you see when visiting Cory Bernardi’s website. No Liberal party logo, no pictures of Cory and Prime Minister Abbott.

For many years now Cory has been studying and practicing the art of building his own movement. He collects thousands of email addresses and bypasses the media when rallying his troops. All useful for the moment he leaves the Liberal Party. Which I predict is not that far off.

As he entered politics, Cory found himself being mentored by the then leader of the far right faction of the Liberal Party, Nick Minchin. Minchin was a warrior. In South Australia he kept at bay the then moderate, Christopher Pyne. But since leaving the Senate, Minchin’s protégé, Beranardi, has made critical mistakes that have seen him lose any power he may have once held inside Australia’s conservative party.

Having just been re-elected to a six-year term, which starts next week, Cory has squeezed all he can out of the Liberal Party. If even Tony Abbott had to demote him from the front bench, what hope does he have that future, more moderate leaders, will ever give him a guernsey?

And so it is that I predict that Cory will leave the Liberal Party, either to join Family First on the crossbench, by setting up his own fringe party, or simply by leaving to be an Independent.

As one voice alongside 33 other Coalition Senators, Cory has the right to cross the floor. But he knows that every time he does he reduces even further any hope he has of building up his power base inside the Liberal Party.

The Liberals need 39 votes to pursue their agenda in the Senate, meaning they are regularly going in search of support from the Palmer United Party and the Independents. Losing Senator Bernardi to the crossbench would help put the religious-right in the box seat.

Bernardi has a National Press Club address scheduled for the 17th July, and given all the other instability the Abbott Government is facing, I can’t imagine that Tony Abbott’s office approved Bernardi’s appearance. It’s curious also that Senator Bernardi requested the final day of the next Senate sitting for his speech.

Bernardi has already revealed what he’ll be talking about. In the blurb he provided to the National Press Club, he writes: “Voter disenchantment with the two major parties has never been higher while their perception of politicians has never been lower….  Across the world, voters are turning away from ‘politics as usual’ and searching for a different approach…. And so we have seen the rise in support for new parties….”

Whether or not he leaves the Liberal Party in a few weeks time, or holds out for longer, he looks set to be a destabilizing force in the Senate, with his speech to the Press Club a must-see event.

2. Senator-elect Ricky Muir won’t last six years in the Senate

The Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party, elected as a result of a fluke set of preferences, didn’t ever intend to win a Victorian seat. Knowing their chances were tight, they put all of their efforts into the Queensland Senate race. There, the party had hoped to see its National Secretary, Keith Littler, elected.

The party ran Ricky Muir in Victoria as part of their plan to swap preferences in seats they weren’t attempting to win, in return for preferences in Queensland. Only it didn’t work.

Senator-elect Muir now faces what must be one of the biggest challenges of his life, trying to balance the interests of a group of party members who didn’t ever want to see him in the Senate.

Word from inside the party is that the Victorian branch are deeply unhappy with Muir’s performance so far, some blaming his gatekeeper, Keith Littler.

With Mr Littler throwing Muir into the lion’s den unprepared (the Mike Willesee interview), it may only be a matter of time before he convinces Muir to go back to his quieter life and leave the politics to those who aspire to be in Parliament.

 

3. Tony Abbott won’t bring his paid parental leave bill to a vote in the Senate

The Coalition and the Greens combined command 43 votes in the Senate. Any issue that unites them should therefore pass the Parliament with ease.

But with a growing number of Coalition Senators lining up to cross the floor, Tony Abbott may decide it best not to test support for his signature policy in the Senate.

Having taken the policy to two elections, you’d think that Liberal Party MPs and Senators will have had ample opportunity to air their concerns. But it seems that only now are their concerns beginning to find voice.

Given how damning a blow this will be for Abbott, he may choose to at least offer parents-to-be a consolation prize, increasing the current paid parental leave scheme from the compromised 18 weeks, to the 26 weeks suggested by health professionals.

With so many of the policies of this Government to be tested in the Senate, one thing’s for sure – we’ll all be paying much more attention to the red leather seats of the usually unassuming Upper House of Parliament. 

 

New Matilda

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