Policy experts fired up their prognosticators on Friday with news that Nick Xenophon, was returning to South Australian politics. The general conclusion was that this is enormously significant for the fate of Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s higher education bill, unless it isn’t.
If the government brings the bill to the Senate next week before the High Court judgement on his citizenship status the numbers, whatever they turn out to be, could be unchanged, with Senator Xenophon still there. But if the legislation is later, and Senator Xenophon is gone, either of his own volition or because the High Court has thrown him out for the high crime of having a dad who was born a British colonial subject in Cyprus, it will not change the Senate balance. While it is unlikely the SA parliament will have appointed the NxT senator, Labor and the government are honouring pairs.
But will the prospect of Senator Xenophon nicking off encourage his federal colleagues to take a different line?
This depends on knowing how many horses he was interested in trading with the government. And people who do aren’t Mr Ed-ing. Unless, of course, his colleagues will now make their own running –Simon Birmingham, an SA senator, might think so, given the serve he gave Sen Xenophon on Friday. The ever-astute minister was blistering in his response to the Xenophon announcement in a way not likely to keep Nick on-side.
There is a view that Member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie meant what she said in her second reading speech and that while she might wear a lower student repayment threshold she is agin the university funding cut. SA senator Stirling Griff on the other hand is thought more sympathetic to the government on this issue. The balance of opinion is that the Senate without Xenophon will be an ever tougher sell for Senator Birmingham’s bill.