View from The Hill: Welfare recipients are potential winners from Pocock twisting Albanese's arm

Lukas Coch/AAP
Lukas Coch/AAP

Anthony Albanese is about to end the year with his industrial relations legislation through and parliament formally lambasting Scott Morrison.

Additionally, Victorian Labor has been returned in majority government, giving another fillip to the brand, which may herald a win early next year in NSW. That would colour the mainland all red.

The strength of the prime minister’s determination to clinch the IR legislation before Christmas can be measured by one rather extraordinary concession he gave key crossbench senator David Pocock to finally secure his vote.

He agreed to set up a “statutory advisory committee” to review ways to boost “economic inclusion”. It will look at “the adequacy of social security support payments every year before the federal budget”.

The negotiation was intense. Pocock, who’d earlier put his demand for the group to the PM, met Albanese at The Lodge on Saturday morning. Two sets of negotiations ran in parallel during the day: with the prime minister over the committee and with workplace relations minister Tony Burke about amendments to the bill.

The new group will be appointed by the treasurer and social services minister. Ministers won’t have to accept what it recommends. But it has the potential to exert substantial leverage on the government, because its review will be published a couple of weeks before the budget.

Labor always said it would review welfare payments ahead of its budgets. But to incorporate stakeholders directly in the process, with a formal public voice, is a big step.

Pocock said on Sunday this “independent expert advice” would be “a game changer for people living below the poverty line”. Before budgets, the group would be “looking at how the most vulnerable in our community are faring and what needs to change to ensure we don’t leave them behind,” he said.

A fresh raft of amendments will be made to the IR bill – which widens multi-employer bargaining – in the Senate this week, coming out of the Pocock negotiations, discussions with the Greens and recommendations from a Senate inquiry.

Pocock was particularly anxious to see extra protection for small business.

There has been a marginal alteration to the definition of these businesses (from under 15 workers to under 20), which was recommended by the Senate inquiry. Also, businesses with fewer than 50 workers have been given a possible route out of the single-interest stream of multi-employer bargaining.

Read more: Grattan on Friday: David Pocock has only just arrived in the Senate and now he's negotiating with the PM

But employers remain highly critical. Whether their fears of serious industrial action turn out to be justified, and whether the government’s hopes the legislation will “get wages moving” are fulfilled, we’ll see – there’ll be a review of its operation in two years.

In the immediate term, the outcome is a win for “Pocock power”, as well as for Albanese and the unions.

What’s set to be a triumphant week for the government and Pocock is shaping as full of misery for the former prime minister and the opposition.

Cabinet on Monday will discuss the report by former High Court judge Virginia Bell into Morrison’s multi-ministry power grab. Bell was sharp about his bizarre behaviour, and critical of his contradictory explanations.

It’s not known what precise wording will be moved. But Albanese on Sunday made it clear the parliament will deliver its verdict on Morrison.

“I’ve been contacted by parliamentarians already, not just Labor parliamentarians, who want the parliament to express a view about the usurping of parliament that occurred,” he told a news conference.

“You had a shadow government operating in an unprecedented, extraordinary way. You had a prime minister who was standing up in parliament and not telling his own side – or not all of his side knew – let alone the parliament as a whole, who held what portfolio and who was responsible for decisions.

"As the Bell inquiry makes very clear, that undermined the faith in our parliamentary processes. It wasn’t possible to hold ministers to account because people didn’t know who the ministers were. I believe that the parliament is likely to want to express a view on that.”

The parliamentary move will corner the opposition. With Morrison in the chamber (presumably), to what extent does the Coalition defend, or disown, him? If it wants to do both, how does that work?

Read more: View from The Hill: What Anthony Albanese wants from parliament for Christmas

It has to be said – once again – that the sooner Morrison leaves parliament, the better for Peter Dutton and his colleagues.

Dutton, however, has much deeper problems than Morrison’s hanging around. These were highlighted by Saturday’s Victorian result, where the Liberals failed to make inroads on a Labor government that was seeking a third term under a controversial leader.

Demography and polling have underlined how crucial the millennials now are in the electorate, and the Victorian Liberals could not connect with them.

The election strongly reinforced the perception that Victoria is a highly progressive state.

Dutton is from the right of the Liberal party; he was considered so out of sync with the Victorian electorate he didn’t venture into the state fray. So how is he going to campaign there between now and 2025, and at that federal election? And how can the Liberals win without making gains in Victoria?

The “teal” challenge remains a threat for them, although the state teals might end up as near misses. Two seats in which they are a chance (Mornington and Hawthorn) are on knife edges.

The teals were almost certainly hampered by the tougher donation laws in Victoria compared to the federal regime. Their next test will be NSW, which has donation and spending caps but is thought to be more “teal territory” than Victoria.

If the Albanese government reforms federal donation laws before the election – as it should – that could disadvantage of the teals, which were big spenders for the May election. On the other hand, the federal sitting teals will have had time to establish themselves by 2025.

The narrow Liberal-versus-teal contests in Kew and Hawthorn are especially relevant. Both are within the federal seat of Kooyong, where Monique Ryan ousted former treasurer Josh Frydenberg. As of Sunday, the Liberals had won Kew while Hawthorn (lost by Labor) was still too close to call.

This will give some encouragement to Frydenberg to recontest, although (as things look now) it would be high risk. Frydenberg’s future will be just another thing for Dutton to mull on.

This article is republished from The Conversation is the world's leading publisher of research-based news and analysis. A unique collaboration between academics and journalists. It was written by: Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra.

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Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.