• Hannah Phillips

The Week in Parliament

At eleven o’clock on Monday the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition delivered an apology to the victims of child sexual abuse.

Tony Burke, the leader of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives, has said that the whole day will be solemn and respectful in keeping with the gravity of the occasion.

Otherwise it’s hard to know what will happen in Parliament this week with Labor likely to be cock-a-hoop over the Wentworth outcome.

It is bound to push its private member’s bill that calls for children in need of medical treatment and their families to be brought to Australia from Nauru.

At the same time the government will try to ensure passage of its bill to prevent asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus Island entering Australia.

If this bill is passed then asylum seekers on Nauru can be sent to New Zealand.

This week is senate estimates and, among other things, the Labor and Greens Senators will want to quiz the Minister for the Environment over the $440 million grant to the Barrier Reef Foundation.

The government is also due to release its energy policy but it is not certain whether this will occur this week.

There is also a possibility that the Attorney General will release the government’s response to the Ruddock review or at least the report itself.

The Wentworth Wash Up

Dave Sharma, the Liberal candidate for the seat of Wentworth, could still be successful in the by-election.

At the moment there are 4,000 postal votes that remain to be counted and Mr Sharma is 1826 votes behind independent candidate Kerryn Phelps.

In order to win the by-election he would need 70% of the remaining postal votes but, at the moment, he’s receiving 63.6%, so it is a very long shot indeed that he will win the seat.

If Kerryn Phelps prevails it will be by a much smaller margin that was anticipated for most of the weekend which makes it highly unlikely that she would support a no-confidence motion that would lead to an early election.

She will need as long as possible to consolidate her standing as an independent.

Wentworth is an economically conservative but socially progressive seat that is very close to the political views of Dr Phelps.

It’s not a seat that would be predisposed to support a social conservative like Scott Morrison.

Dave Sharma is more socially progressive than the Prime Minister and will be working to establish his credentials with the electorate.

If the Wentworth voters believe Labor will win the next election they may consider that the economic imperatives are more important than their socially progressive ones.

In that event, enough of them may vote for Mr Sharma to return the seat to the Coalition.

In the meantime the government is likely to be looking at hung Parliament and minority government.

Some commentators, such as Michelle Grattan, believe that this could lead to internecine warfare within the government.

The increased pressure that the numbers will impose on individual government members will lead to a loss of morale and increase the likelihood of mistakes.

It will be a Herculean task for the government to hold it all together until the next election.

Although the government will probably be able to guarantee confidence through to the next election with the support some of the crossbenchers, getting its legislation through Parliament will be another matter which will make it harder to give the impression that it is governing the country.

There were two issues that dominated the by-election: the tearing down of Malcolm Turnbull and climate change.

It is possible that the anger over the first of these will dissipate before the general election but the government will need to attend to the second.

Given the poor performance of the current Environment Minister, Melissa Price, this may even require a change of minister.

The Prime Minister has confirmed that Malcolm Turnbull turned down several requests from Dave Sharma for support in the electorate.

Mr Sharma was very diplomatic in his references to the Turnbulls, thanking the former Prime Minister and his wife Lucy for their support.

Mr Morrison was unsure how much of a difference a strong recommendation from Mr Turnbull would have made to the campaign.

“Quite a number of us asked for that support, not necessarily in the form of a letter, there are many other ways in which people can choose to express their support,” Mr Morrison told reporters on Sunday.

“There were even approaches made by Dave himself. What impact they would have had, ultimately, is for others to judge.”

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