Coalition gets gun-shy after week of procedural acrobatics

Changeable: Clive Palmer and government leader in the House of Representatives Christopher Pyne confer in the lower house. Photo: Alex EllinghausenTony Abbott’s hopes of quickly scrapping the carbon tax under a more compliant Senate have again been put on hold with the repeal bills not brought before the upper house until Tuesday night for fear of another mishap.

That was despite amended legislation being passed in the House of Representatives on Monday.

But the Senate has extended its hours to try to pass the Abbott government’s repeal – whether that takes hours, days or a weekend or two.

The government kept senators in the upper house late into the evening on Tuesday as it debated the carbon tax repeal, and could keep the chamber open much longer if it doesn’t get its way.

Senators will need to remain in Canberra every single day until the carbon tax is repealed and other bills considered.

The repeal legislation was delayed by last-minute backroom talks between the government and key crossbench senators, but eventually got underway in the upper house.

With the patience of Coalition MPs wearing thin and just two scheduled days of sittings left before the long winter break, the drawn-out process is straining government morale. The package has been listed among an ambitious suite of bills the government now says it wants debated to completion by the close of the session on Thursday, or it will go into an unusual Friday sitting, and possibly beyond.

That has angered some crossbenchers who say they are being ”baffled with bullshit”.

The carbon tax delay has also wreaked havoc on other priorities, such as consideration of tens of billions of dollars of budget savings bills – some now unable to be debated in this sitting. Legislation for a planned increase in federal fuel excise due to take effect from August is one bill not able to be debated in time to be enacted.

The ongoing uncertainty has shredded the government’s budget and political strategy, turning its special two-week sitting of the Senate – called expressly to capitalise on the new cross-bench antipathy to the carbon and mining taxes – into a political own-goal.

After last week’s surprise failure when the Palmer United Party withdrew its support and sided with Labor at the last minute, the government was moving ultra-cautiously on Tuesday despite professed backing of the PUP.

It was concerned that while all eight cross-bench senators say they are committed to consigning the carbon tax to history in a final vote, as many as three might baulk at the use of a guillotine to bring an end debate and force that vote.

In a further sign the government had lost exclusive control of the legislative timetable, the Climate Change Authority bill was removed from the list of those to be considered, supposedly at the insistence of the PUP.

Sources said the CCA bill, the purported vehicle for Mr Palmer’s proposed ”dormant” emissions trading scheme, will not be presented this week.

Fairfax understands there is also last-minute discussion over Mr Palmer’s belated inclusion of India in the basket of countries to which the CCA would be required to look when recommending that Australia should activate its dormant ETS.

New senators are unhappy at being told to get across vast numbers of bills in a short time.

As one insider said, ”they want to keep the new kids in school as long as possible to ram through legislation”.

”I think a decision was taken at some time to smash the new guys, baffle them with bullshit and quantity – and it’s backfiring.”

With Lisa Cox, AAP

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