With the impending departure of the long-standing and respected Finance Minister, Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, and various other changes to the composition of the Senate Crossbench, engaging with the new look Senate will require new insights and a fresh perspective.
Keeping this in mind, we present our insights and overview of changes to the Senate composition, potential replacements in the race to become the next Finance Minister, and possible promotions for leading lights of Labor and the Coalition.
THE NEXT FINANCE MINISTER
Although multiple candidates are potentially in the running to replace Senator Cormann, current Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, is the most tipped to be a front runner to take the portfolio once Senator Cormann officially retires. Senator Birmingham’s appointment as Finance Minister would represent a considerable promotion and serve to recognise South Australia’s growing influence within the Liberal Party.
For further analysis on the impact of Cormann’s departure, Nexus has previously prepared an in-depth brief on the potential impact of the next Finance Minister, available here: https://www.nexusapac.com.au/2020/07/08/cormann-terminates-storied-political-career-analysis-impact/
THE NEW LOOK CROSSBENCH
Senator Cormann’s expertise and negotiating tactics within the Senate and Federal Political landscape will be challenging to fill, with Senator Cormann having played a critical role in dealing with the notoriously tricky Senate crossbench. With that in mind, the Senate Crossbench has gone through significant changes over the past six months.
The decision of Senator Rex Patrick to leave Centre Alliance and represent his state as an independent has significantly diminished the power of Centre Alliance and the South Australian voting bloc that was a legacy of long-time Senate crossbencher Nick Xenophon.
In addition, despite remaining in the party, there is speculation that remaining the members of Centre Alliance, Senator Stirling Griff and member of the House of Representatives, Ms Rebekha Sharkie MP, could end up joining the Liberal party and are actively being courted by the party.
Meanwhile, the Greens have experienced significant changes, with former party leader Dr Richard Di Natale has officially retired from the Senate and set to be replaced by an Aboriginal leader and former Member for Northcote in the Victorian Parliament, Ms Lidia Thorpe. Greens Senator from Western Australia and current Party Whip, Senator Rachel Siewert, has announced her intention to retire before the next election.
Despite the new look of the crossbench, the key to engaging crossbenchers is understanding how to balance the concerns of your organisation and theirs. If the policy initiative you as a business or organisation coincides with the interests of crossbench Senators, they can be a helpful ally in placing the issue on the government’s plan.
Conversely, businesses and organisations with policy initiatives that are in direct opposition with the agenda of certain crossbenchers will want to avoid the attention of the crossbench all together. Despite a more friendly crossbench, they still hold considerable power over the government’s agenda. They may wish to use that power to veto your proposed policy initiative in exchange for supporting the passage of legislation.
The team at Nexus Public Affairs has considerable experience in engaging with the Senate and the Crossbench. If you would like any assistance in engaging with political stakeholders on all sides of politics, please don’t hesitate to contact our team.
GOVERNMENT & OPPOSITION: CHANGES AND PROMOTIONS
Cormann’s departure will also potentially result in current Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, becoming the leading Coalition Senator from Western Australia. Senator Cash is tipped to take over as leading WA Senator and Deputy Senate Leader. Fellow WA Senator and current Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC – also is a potential for this role.
On the Nationals side, Senator the Hon Bridget McKenzie has made headlines speaking on behalf of farmers and the impact of Covid-19 restrictions, saying that there “are key production stages in agriculture which cannot wait for restrictions to be lifted. The implications would be dire, especially for our farmers already recovering from drought, the bushfires, and now COVID,”. Senator McKenzie, still dealing with the fall out of the ‘sports rorts’ scandal, is potentially working looking to make a comeback to the Coalition frontbench in the Nationals.
Moving to the Labor side, the climactic battle will be in NSW, with Senator the Hon Kristina Keneally and Senator Deborah O’Neill looking to position themselves on NSW Labor’s Senate ticket. Similar to the potential clash between the Liberals in Tasmania, it is likely that Labor will win two seats out of the six up at the next half-Senate election, and with three Labor Senators with expiring terms in NSW, the top two spots on the ticket will be coveted by all.
Senator Jenny McAllister is almost assured her position on the ALP ticket, given she is the only left-aligned Senator up for re-election. That means the Senators Keneally and O’Neill will be looking to secure their political careers by ensuring a top place on the ticket.
Senator Keneally has utilised her prominent position well throughout the 46th Parliament, becoming a star performer for Labor in the Senate, particularly in the COVID Select Committee, where her questioning on the Ruby Princess was noteworthy. This, coupled with her leadership position in the Senate for Labor, makes her the tipped front runner for a top-two place on the Senate ticket.