With the unpredictable and confusing state of the new Senate, Tony Abbott will have his negotiating skills tested. So far negotiating skills have not been part of his political success.
Thanks to the Palmer United Party and five other cross-benchers in the Senate from July 1, the situation could become even more chaotic than the House of Representatives was after the 2010 election- a situation that Tony Abbott did his best to make even more chaotic.
If Tony Abbott had revealed good negotiating skills, he may have been the prime minister after the line-ball election result in 2010. But it turned out that Julia Gillard won hands-down in persuading Tony Windsor and Robb Oakeshott to support an ALP government. Tony Abbott was no match for Julia Gillard in winning over the Independents.
Will he do any better with the senators after July 1?
In the new Senate the Coalition will have 33 seats, the ALP 25 seats, the Greens ten seats, with ‘others’ having eight seats. If the ALP and the Greens oppose legislation, the Coalition will need the support of six out of the other eight senators.
These eight ‘other senators’ are a very mixed bag. Three are from the Palmer United Party. There is one independent, Nick Xenophon; one from the Democratic Labor Party, John Madigan; one from the Liberal Democratic Party, David Leyonhjelm; one from Family First, Bob Day. And one from the celebrated Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, Ricky Muir.
But Tony Abbott doesn’t have a good record of compromising and doing deals. In his recently published memoirs ‘The Independent Member for Lyne’, Rob Oakeshott is quite critical of Tony Abbott’s negotiating skills. He points to this in many ways. In his memoirs he says
- ‘I am now both curious and frustrated by Tony Abbot’s negotiating style or lack of it … The door is always open, the mood is always civil, but nothing is progressing. He always indicates he is available if required, but doesn’t pursue anything.’
- ‘Abbott has all but run dead in the first 15 days of negotiation.’
- Oakeshott says that he doubted Abbott’s genuineness and sincerity about running a three-year term. He says that his intuition was later confirmed when Bronwyn Bishop told Sky News in October 2012 ‘Of course we would have gone to another election.’
- ‘For reasons I couldn’t understand, I felt Tony Abbott hadn’t even been trying throughout the entire process to date.’
- The sincerity of Tony Abbott’s offer ‘just doesn’t feel real’.
- ‘I was pissed off’ with Tony Abbott.
- He described Tony Abbott as ‘the master of negativity we’d all come to know’.
- Abbott laid his cards on the table ‘Climate change and the NBN are non-negotiable – Look, if you want to support one or both of these issues, go with the other mob.’
Will Tony Abbott do better this time with the Senate? He needs to learn a lot.
He has apparently written to all the eight cross-bench senators and the micro-party leaders requesting meetings. Apparently the letter said that he is not going to be held hostage and that he expects the parliament to respect his mandate on the carbon and mining taxes and pass his budget. The AFR journalist Phillip Coorey suggests that the same old Tony Abbott is still at work. Coorey said ‘This week [Senator] Madigan was scathing, telling this column he had received a letter from Tony Abbott but he did not believe that Abbott was serious about wanting to engage.’
On top of the doubts about Tony Abbott’s negotiating skills we now have the unpredictable Clive Palmer and his bombshell on climate change.
Tony Abbott’s representative in the Senate is Eric Abetz who is not known for his finesse and mediating skills. Before the last election Abetz said that asylum-seekers living in the community should be named and shamed like paedophiles.
After July 1, the Senate is really going to test Tony Abbott’s negotiating skills.