The Government Has Cancelled Parliament Because They’re Kind Of Fucked

They won't admit it though.


What do you do if you’re a federal government facing an incredibly precarious situation because a rolling citizenship crisis has claimed a significant number of your MPs and Senators and thrown your parliamentary majority in doubt? Well, if you’re the Turnbull government you just cancel parliament to avoid the embarrassment of losing important votes!

This morning the Leader of the House, Christopher Pyne, announced that the government had cancelled next week’s sitting of the House of Representatives. Instead, the House of Reps will return on December 4 and “will sit until marriage equality is law and citizenship issues have been dealt with”.

According to the government, the reason they’ve cancelled next week’s sitting is because the Senate will still be debating marriage equality legislation and it won’t be ready to go to the House of Reps. But that excuse doesn’t really make sense. First of all, marriage equality isn’t the only piece of legislation Parliament is debating.

There are currently 76 bills before the House of Reps that the government could debate while they waited for the Senate to finish up on marriage equality. Suspending sittings for an entire week, because you’re waiting on the Senate to pass one piece of legislation doesn’t really stack up. So what’s really going on?

The Government Has Lost Its Majority

The Coalition won the 2016 election with the barest of majorities, securing 76 seats out of 150. In the past month two Coalition MPs have been forced to leave Parliament: Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander. That means the government is down to 74 MPs. Technically, they’ve lost their majority.

However, that doesn’t mean they’re at immediate risk of being turfed out. A couple of independent MPs like Bob Katter and Cathy McGowan have confirmed they would support the government if Labor tried to move a motion of no confidence. The risk is more about Labor using this window to pass legislation the government doesn’t like, like the proposal for a Royal Commission into the banking sector.

The by-election for Barnaby Joyce’s seat of New England is on December 2, meaning there’s a chance he could be back in Parliament for the new, delayed sitting week. Though Christopher Pyne has argued that’s not the reason behind the suspension of the House of Reps.

But even if Joyce isn’t back in time, it’s pretty clear this move buys the government time to fend off attempts by Labor and the crossbench to hijack the parliamentary agenda. It also reflects the parlous state the government is in. It’s something Labor MPs, including Bill Shorten, have been eager to highlight.

In addition to debating marriage equality, the House of Representatives will also debate citizenship disclosures from all MPs once it sits again. Which means we could be looking at even more politicians being booted from Parliament before Christmas.

Fun times ahead!

Feature image via Andrea Schaffer / Flickr