Canberra (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faces a tooth and nail fight with an emboldened opposition and slew of independent lawmakers when parliament returns on Tuesday for the first time since elections last month in which he took a beating.
Turnbull called early polls to break a deadlock in the upper house Senate, where a handful of independents blocked the government’s agenda of corporate tax cuts and workplace reforms for more than two years.
But the election backfired, leaving the ruling Liberal-National coalition with a one-vote majority in the lower house and dependant on either the opposition Labor Party or eight to 10 independents or minor party Senators to pass legislation.
“The government no longer has a working majority. Everything that happens in Parliament now will be affected by the weak support the prime minister has in his own party room,” Labor’s Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke told Reuters.
“The Turnbull government won’t last three years. On its best day, defeat is only one vote away.”
Indeed, Turnbull looks set to face his first defeat as early as this week over a government proposal to hold a plebiscite to legalize same-sex marriage.
Labor has garnered enough support from the Greens Party and independents, including newly elected Senator Derryn Hinch, to defeat a measure they call costly and unnecessary.
Turnbull enjoyed record-high approval ratings after ousting Tony Abbott in a party-room coup in 2014. Since then, his numbers have sagged as the government failed to chalk up legislative victories.
Hinch, a television personality known as “the human headline”, rides into office this week on that wave of voter discontent.
“I’ve met every prime minister since (Robert) Menzies,” he told Reuters, referring to Australia’s longest serving prime minister, who left office in 1966.
“I’ve never seen a prime minister ... who’s managed to dribble away their political cache so fast.”
Further complicating matters for Turnbull is a bloc of protectionist lawmakers led by the far-right One Nation Party.
This month, Treasurer Scott Morrison officially rejected bids by two Chinese companies in the A$10 billion ($7.55 billion) sale of electricity provider Ausgrid, which was widely seen as a reaction to the protectionists’ growing power.
Nationals Party Senator John Williams, who is threatening to break with the government to support a Royal Commission into the financial services sector opposed by Turnbull, acknowledged they were facing an uphill battle.
“It will be tough. But people need to make decisions for the future of our country,” Williams told Reuters.
“If we don’t ... then I‘m sorry to say it but in years to come we’re going to hit the financial brick wall and it’s going to be a smash then.”
Reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Robert Birsel