Surplus Budget announcement turns into a circus

SCOTT Morrison will precariously hold on to Government until he sends voters to the polls in May after a staunch ally of Malcolm Turnbull quit the Liberal Party to sit as an independent.

The bombshell announcement of Victorian MP Julia Banks yesterday was done without the knowledge of the Prime Minister, who was in the middle of announcing a "surplus Budget" would be handed down on April 2.

Ms Banks's brutal blow, done in the Lower House while fellow Turnbull loyalist Craig Laundy was in the chamber, has plunged the Government further into minority, reducing its numbers to 73 (74 including Speaker Tony Smith) and boosting the crossbench to seven.

All four female crossbenchers now hold seats previously held by the Liberal Party.

The Independents, Cathy McGowan, Rebekha Sharkie, Kerryn Phelps and Andrew Wilkie spoke with Julia Banks after she stood in the House of Representatives and resigned as Liberal backbencher to join the Independents. Picture: Gary Ramage
The Independents, Cathy McGowan, Rebekha Sharkie, Kerryn Phelps and Andrew Wilkie spoke with Julia Banks after she stood in the House of Representatives and resigned as Liberal backbencher to join the Independents. Picture: Gary Ramage

Ms Banks has promised to give the Government supply and confidence but she is likely to support referring Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to the High Court for allegedly being in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution

It is understood Ms Banks's rage is aimed at Mr Dutton and Health Minister Greg Hunt. She blames them both for bringing down Mr Turnbull, who pushed MPs to refer Mr Dutton to the High Court. She also alleges she faced bullying during the spill.

Mr Dutton was absent from parliament after undergoing surgery to his arm at the weekend.

The actions of Ms Banks was being privately blamed on Mr Turnbull by some within parliament last night.

Mr Turnbull did not respond when asked if he encouraged Ms Banks to defect to the crossbench or if he was made aware of her decision before Mr Morrison.

Meantime, tactically, the Government released the Parliament's 2019 schedule, which will sit just 10 sitting days before the next election.

 

stateofthehouse (1).jpg
stateofthehouse (1).jpg

 

In a brutal and damaging spray at her colleagues, Ms Banks let loose on why she had made her decision - namely the "right-wingers" and the dumping of Mr Turnbull.

"Led by members of the reactionary right wing, the coup was aided by many MPs trading their vote for a leadership change in exchange for their individual promotion, preselection endorsements or silence,'' Ms Banks said.

"Their actions were undeniably for themselves, for their position in the party, their power, their personal ambition - not for the Australian people who we represent, not for what people voted for in the 2016 election, not for stability. And disregarding that teamwork and stability delivers success.

Scott Morrison will precariously hold on to Government until he sends voters to the polls in May. Picture: Kym Smith
Scott Morrison will precariously hold on to Government until he sends voters to the polls in May. Picture: Kym Smith

"The aftermath of those dark days in August acutely laid bare the major parties' obstructionist and combative actions and internal games - all for political pointscoring rather than for timely, practical, sensible decisions on matters which Australians care about.

"My sensible centrist values, belief in economic responsibility and focus on always putting the people first and acting in the nation's interest have not changed."

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg privately met with Ms Banks to make sense of her defection. It is understood Ms Banks, who has refused to return colleagues' phone calls, waited until after the Victorian election to make her announcement.

At the time of print, it is understood Ms Banks had not spoken to Mr Morrison.

Questions were privately being asked whether Julie Bishop knew about the decision. Ms Bishop, who used to sit next to Ms Banks, was not in parliament yesterday because she was giving a speech in Sydney.

 

In a brutal and damaging spray at her colleagues, Julia Banks let loose on why she had made her decision - namely the “right-wingers” and the dumping of Mr Turnbull. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
In a brutal and damaging spray at her colleagues, Julia Banks let loose on why she had made her decision - namely the “right-wingers” and the dumping of Mr Turnbull. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Asked about the defection, the former deputy Liberal leader said she was saddened by the move, but it highlighted that the Liberal party needed more women.

"I'm saddened that Julia Banks had reached a point where she felt she could no longer continue in the Liberal party. She will be missed," she said.

"She was a strong, sensible centre female politician,'' Ms Bishop said.

Leader of the House Christopher Pyne said Ms Banks would have to answer for her decision.

"She was elected as a Liberal, she's now sitting as an independent. And she'll have to bear the consequences for that decision," Mr Pyne told Sky News.

"Sometimes you win policy battles, sometimes you lose ... I'm sorry that Julia doesn't agree with some of those policies. That's what it's like being in a team. You can't always get your own way.

"She has to answer for that. Not me."

Mr Morrison, who wanted the focus of the last Parliamentary sittings on the year to be on the economy and national security, was forced to convince Australians there was no chaos in Canberra.

He left voters guessing on whether a Budget surplus would be handed down earlier, and the date of the election. Given Easter and school holidays in April, it is likely voters will go to the polls on May 11 or May 18.

"I'll let you do the maths. There are options available to the Government," Mr Morrison said.

"There are always options available to the Government to call an election anytime between now and to have a half-Senate election and a House of Representatives election concurrently. That would be conducted by 18 May.

"It is our intention to deliver a surplus budget."

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Ms Banks was a strong woman.

"For the Liberal Party to lose her says a lot about the dysfunction in the Liberal Party," he said.

"But we're focused on the issues of better hospitals and better schools, not cuts and division."

Leader of Opposition business Tony Burke said the government had gone from claiming it had "a strong working majority to a weak, dwindling minority".