Australia

Growing crossbench threatens minority government’s already shaky position

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The loss of former Liberal MP-turned-independent Julia Banks has only made the Coalition's job even harder as her new allies push for change before Christmas.

With just six parliamentary sitting days to go for the rest of the year, the Morrison government is facing major pressure from a new-look crossbench on a number of policy fronts.

With Tuesday's addition of former Liberal MP Julia Banks to the crossbench, there are now eight MPs sitting as independents or minor party members.

Although they have not formed a voting bloc, most of them have made it clear their priority is removing children from Australia's offshore detention centre on Nauru.

Kerryn Phelps receives the petition with 170,000 signatures.
Kerryn Phelps receives the petition with 170,000 signatures.
Twitter/@janafavero

The recently elected Sydney independent Kerryn Phelps, who secured former PM Malcolm Turnbull's seat of Wentworth, has taken possession of a petition outside Parliament with 170,000 signatures on it calling for the government to change its policy.

"This is a humanitarian and medical crisis," she said on the lawn outside Canberra's Parliament House.

Newly Independent MP Julia Banks (centre) takes seat on the cross bench during House of Representatives Question Time.Newly Independent MP Julia Banks (centre) takes her seat on the cross bench during House of Representatives Question Time.
Newly Independent MP Julia Banks (centre) takes her seat on the cross bench during House of Representatives Question Time.
AAP

"Unless the children are brought here to Australia, never to return, we will see a death among these children and that must not be something that rests on the Australian conscience."

Minority federal government forced to rely on crossbenchers

The Coalition is now in a  minority government, with 73 MPs, excluding the Liberal Speaker of the House.

Several of the crossbenchers have assured the government of supply and confidence, meaning any attempts to topple the Coalition with a no-confidence motion would fail in Parliament.

Independent MP for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps, Julia Banks and Centre Alliance member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie.
Independent MP for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps, Julia Banks and Centre Alliance member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie.
AAP

But fewer votes are required for things like referring Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to the High Court over his constitutional eligibility to sit in Parliament.

Push for new corruption watchdog

The crossbenchers have also indicated they want a new national anti-corruption agency.

But Attorney-General Christian Porter said the federal government is unlikely to support the idea.

"I have been working on this for some time, probably about the last six months, and what I'd say is it's not as simple as it looks and the corruption bodies that have existed in each of the states and territories have had varying degrees of success," he said.

Need for body with teeth: Greens

The government's leaning towards strengthening existing federal bodies, like the Law Enforcement Integrity Commission.

But Labor, the Greens and the crossbench want a whole new commission - with the option of both private and public hearings.

Greens Leader Richard Di Natale said it is a logical move.

Stephen Charles and Anthony Whealy are among 32 former judges that have backed calls for a new national corruption watchdog.
Stephen Charles and Anthony Whealy are among 32 former judges that have backed calls for a new national corruption watchdog.
AAP

"We need an overarching, independent body with teeth (strong powers) - we don't need some small group carved out of an existing bureaucracy without the powers necessary to do the job," he said.

"That's a cop out." 

As the calls for such a body grow, the Australian Public Service Commission released its census on Monday.

It revealed almost 4,400 federal public servants believe they witnessed corruption in the past year, with advocates pointing to the figures as a prime reason for a federal anti-corruption agency.

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