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This Week in Parliament

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This week in Parliament will be dominated by the omnibus savings bill which, at the moment, appears to have three of its wheels clamped.

Scott Morrison has indicated that if he can’t get savings measures through the Senate at the March sittings he will cut the measures out of the May budget.

On Sky News yesterday morning Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, said that there was still a chance that the bill would be passed. “These conversations are still live, they are still ongoing, I’m

certainly not prepared to put up the white flag,” Senator Cormann proclaimed.

The government appears be confronted by two insurmountable obstacles: Nick Xenophon is opposed to any cuts to welfare in order to fund childcare or the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Pauline Hanson is opposed to a two week extension to the paid parental leave scheme because she says it will encourage women to have babies for the money.

So far only Senator David Leyonhjelm has endorsed all the cuts.

Senator Cormann told Sky that “once the government knows how much of its agenda it’s been able to get through the Parliament it will make judgements on what it can best do to keep getting the budget back into balance as soon as possible.”

He’s rejected Senator Xenophon’s proposal that the Medicare levy should be increased in order to fund the NDIS. A major problem for the government is that it will have to deal with the criticism made last week by Tony Abbott.

Abbott told an audience at a book launch that the government was in danger of drifting to defeat at the next election. He proposed a five point manifesto which he said would improve the government’s stocks: freezing the renewable energy target in order to keep electricity prices down; a pause in immigration to reduce demand in the housing sector; scrapping the Human Rights Commission; a suspension of new spending until the budget is repaired; and reform of the Senate to remove its power to reject budget measures.

As expected these proposals have been rejected out of hand by the Liberal Party and the commentariat.

This was a huge mistake.

Tony Abbott’s proposals were pitched at the Liberal base that’s already disillusioned with the Turnbull government.

As he said there is a danger that this group of voters will shift to Pauline Hanson and, if they do so in the proportions already extant in Queensland, the Liberals’ and more particularly the Nationals’ vote will be decimated.

It is noticeable that the Nationals stayed quiet on the Abbott proposals.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen told the ABC’s Barrie Cassidy yesterday that Labor had a bill on penalty rates ready to introduce into Parliament this week.

This is designed to put pressure on the government over the Fair Work Commission’s decision to reduce penalty rates for hospitality and retail workers.

Labor is trying to wedge the government over the decision in a review that was initiated by the Leader of the Opposition.

Employment Minister, Michaelia Cash, has tried to keep the government at arm’s length from the decision but the bill will put the ball squarely in the government’s court: it will have to choose whether it supports a bill that will introduce a ‘no disadvantage’ test to be applied to all Fair Work Commission decisions on penalty rates or be accused of supporting a ‘work choices’ labour environment.

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