You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Senate mess windfall for Shorten, Hanson

AAP logoAAP 2/11/2016 Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

There are two winners from the political events of this week - Bill Shorten and Pauline Hanson.

Labor has made much of the argument that Malcolm Turnbull is running a chaotic and dysfunctional government.

Turnbull made the July election about two things - making the Senate easier to manage and cleaning up corruption in the building sector.

The prime minister went so far as to do a deal with the Greens to change the way senators are elected.

However, the election delivered a 20-member crossbench including the Greens - the largest in history - and what we now know to be a legal mess.

Family First's Bob Day quit this week to deal with the fallout from the collapse of his Home Australia group of building companies.

But the scandal goes deeper and the Senate will be asked on Monday to ask the High Court whether Day had been eligible to run for election.

The issue relates to whether he received an indirect benefit from the government when setting up his South Australian electorate office in a building he once owned and may have retained a financial interest in.

Attorney-General George Brandis faces a barrage of questions when parliament resumes on Monday relating to when he first received legal advice on the Day matter and why it had been left to drag on when negotiations on the lease between Day and the Finance Department were known to have started in January 2014.

A second senator, One Nation's Rod Culleton, will also be referred to the High Court on a separate matter relating to his eligibility to run for election.

Culleton was the subject of a larceny conviction, which is punishable by a jail term of a year or more - a disqualification from parliament under the constitution.

While the conviction was later annulled (and he pleaded guilty to the charge in October) the fact that the conviction was in place when he ran for election could provide the basis for him to lose his West Australian seat.

Culleton will almost certainly be replaced by One Nation on a recount, with the job going to either his brother-in-law or wife who were on the party ticket in WA.

Day may be replaced by Family First but there is also the prospect, if the electoral commission intervenes on technical grounds relating to the Senate voting system, it could fall to Labor or One Nation.

Day's immediate resignation and Culleton's declaration that he might abstain from voting on bills while the legal action has forced the government to temporarily halt debate on bills to restore the building industry watchdog and impose tougher penalties for union corruption - two bills that triggered the double dissolution election.

Turnbull now faces a week of parliament in which his much-vaunted workplace bills won't be on the program and his same-sex marriage plebiscite bill will almost certainly fail, but he will gain Labor support for some non-controversial bills.

If Culleton does not vote, with the Senate down to 75 members, the government - which holds 30 Senate seats - will need 38 votes for a majority. If Labor and the Greens vote as a bloc the government will need eight out of nine crossbenchers to pass bills and motions.

Labor is also likely to make hay out of the fact that Tony Abbott has been talking to colleagues about wanting a cabinet post, preferably indigenous affairs.

One saving grace for Turnbull is he is hosting the Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Monday, which will provide a temporary pause in political hostilities.

There's also an upside for Pauline Hanson.

Much like Donald Trump in the United States presidential race, Hanson has made a big deal of the political and judicial system being biased against her and her supporters.

The Culleton case perfectly feeds into One Nation supporters' paranoia about the courts being part of a conspiracy going all the way back to Hanson's jailing.

Turnbull's challenge over the next sitting week will be to rise above the tin foil hat brigade, credibly answer Labor's questions about the Senate court challenges and portray himself as a prime minister whose agenda remains firmly on track.

Failing to do so will chip away at his already-falling approval rating and the coalition's hopes of holding on to power.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon