New Australian senate powerbrokers outline policy demands

CANBERRA, Australia – With the dust still not settled from one of Australia’s closest-ever elections, competing political factions have begun issuing demands — from banning Muslim immigration, scrapping a trade deal with China to imposing curbs on gambling — in return for supporting government legislation in the next Senate.

The final makeup of a more fractious Senate won’t be settled for weeks after the July 2 election, but the results already give a minor party and an independent senator leverage over Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s conservative government in outlining their demands.

Nick Xenophon, whose Nick Xenophon Team party could have three senators in the new Parliament, on Thursday outlined demands for new curbs on poker machines, online gambling and sports-betting advertising to reduce the losses of gambling addicts.

Turnbull has said that gambling regulation was a state rather than a federal government responsibility. Gambling is a major revenue earner for states. But Xenophon expects Turnbull to think again about that in light of the new Senate.

“This ought to be done, not because it’s a bargaining chip, but because it’s unambiguously the right thing to do — there are so many people who are suffering,” Xenophon told reporters.

Jacqui Lambie, an independent senator who like Xenophon advocates more trade protection, on Thursday called for Australia to scrap its free-trade deal with its most important trading partner, China.

She said the deal should be cancelled until China accepts an international tribunal ruling this week that said China had no legal basis for its expansive territorial claims to the South China Sea.

“Australia meekly signing a bad trade deal with China last year has encouraged their Communist government and contributed to their aggressive, dangerous and bad international behaviour in Asian international waters,” Lambie said in a statement.

Turnbull’s coalition will have a majority of only one or two seats in the House of Representatives, where the majority party forms the government, but will be in the minority in the Senate, meaning it will need support to pass any laws.

He has already said he will not seek backing from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party, which has been condemned for what Australia’s major parties say are its racist policies.

Hanson, its founder, was voted out of Parliament in 1998 but will return to the Senate with up to two other members of her party.

The party’s policies include a ban on Muslim immigration and holding a government inquiry “to determine if Islam is a religion or political ideology.”

Hanson did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday, but during the campaign in May she warned the government: “I’m going to be a thorn in their bloody side.”

The Senate is expected to have 10 senators outside the conservation coalition, the centre-left Labor Party opposition and the minor Greens party, and Turnbull would likely need the support of at least eight of those 10 if Labor or the Greens party members do not support his legislation.