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Day one for new Senators -

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Day one for new Senators

The World Today - Tuesday, 26 August , 2008 12:10:00

Reporter: Lyndal Curtis

ELEANOR HALL: But we go first to the national capital... And as Parliament sits for the first time
today since the winter break, the Coalition has thrown up more problems for the Government by
extending the list of budget measures it will vote against.

This means the Government will have to enter a series of negotiations with minor players in the
Senate. But Opposition leader Brendan Nelson has rejected Government claims that the Coalition is
being irresponsible.

In Canberra Chief Political Correspondent, Lyndal Curtis reports.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The first day of the new session and new senators such as the Greens Sarah
Hanson-Young arrived on time and on message.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Yeah I've been waiting eight months for this day and what a wonderful
opportunity to raise the plight of the Murray.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Others such as Nationals senator John Williams had a welcoming party from his
colleagues.

JOHN WILLIAMS: It's good to see you.

COLLEAGUE: I'm not going to kiss you mate.

JOHN WILLIAMS: How are you mate, oh please don't.

COLLEAGUE: I'll kiss your missus.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And on his first day, Independent Nick Xenophon, hit the nail on the head.

NICK XENOPHON: I think this is a whole new ball game for all of us and I think we'll get an idea of
how it works in the next couple of weeks.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Getting an idea of how it works means making new friends out of old enemies, with
the Government and Opposition already courting the balance of power players.

Senator Xenophon and fellow South Australian Liberal Senator Nick Minchin haven't seen eye to eye
in the past. But in a joint interview on ABC local radio in Adelaide this morning the veteran
Liberal was happy to back a proposed inquiry by Senator Xenophon and the Greens into saving the
lower lakes of the Murray and the Coorong.

NICK MINCHIN: We are supporting this Senate inquiry, we've proposed some amendments to the terms of
reference which I think the greens and Nick find acceptable.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Government's told the Greens leader, Bob Brown it's happy to look at it as well
and Senator Brown is getting some attention from Labor and its senate leader Chris Evans.

BOB BROWN: I'll be talking with Chris Evans in a while in fact in 10 minutes I think. We're having
interest from the Government now.

LYNDAL CURTIS: And the new best friendships extend the other way with Senator Minchin saying the
coalition will be courting the cross benches as well.

NICK MINCHIN: And of course we'll be seeking to get Nick Xenophon's support in those cases where we
would like him to join us in stopping Labor doing things which we think are bad for the country.

So we'll work with Nick, we'll work with Steve Fielding and indeed we'll work with the Greens.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Greens, Family First and Senator Xenophon are the senators of the moment because
they hold the balance of power and with the Opposition's decision to vote against a number of
budget measures, the fate of those bills will stand and fall with the seven senators.

The Coalition is meeting today to formalise its opposition to two more budget measures. One, the
tax exemption on condensate; a light crude oil extracted from natural gas and the tax increase on
luxury cars.

NICK MINCHIN: What an extraordinary notion to say that the Government is fighting inflation and
it's doing so by putting up the price of cars, putting up the price of gas, putting up the price of
private health insurance. This is a nonsensical approach to economic strategy.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Government is accusing the Coalition of risking the surplus an attack taken up
this morning by backbencher, Jason Clare.

JASON CLARE: The key question is, are they going to act responsibly? Are they going to pass the key
measures that the Government has put forward in the budget? Or, are they going to cut a $6 billion
hole in the Government's budget?

Now in these uncertain international economic times, in these difficult times where inflation's a
problem and where the people in my electorate want interest rates going down, not up, the pressures
going to be on the Opposition to act responsibly.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Senator Minchin has dismissed the criticism telling AM it's a complete exaggeration
because the measures amount to just point five of one per cent of Government revenue.

NICK MINCHIN: The Government will still have huge surpluses even if we do vote against these and
defeat these tax measures for which there is no case and which are quite incoherent and without
justification.

LYNDAL CURTIS: With the trouble between the parties, there's also trouble inside them. Some Labor
MPs have criticised a Government plan to stop welfare payments to parents who don't send their
children to school and they've also criticised the decision to keep the construction watchdog, The
Australian Building and Construction Commission until 2010.

Labor MP Dick Adams says a caucus committee is now looking at that issue and he's arguing for the
powers of the commission to be watered down.

DICK ADAMS: I don't think we need to keep this at the extreme end of where it is at the moment. I
think we should be able to wind that back somewhat.

LYNDAL CURTIS: On the coalition side, it's still dogged by leadership speculation. Its leader
Brendan Nelson isn't making headway in the polls and some frontbenchers on Four Corners last night
sang the praises of leadership aspirant Malcolm Turnbull.

Tony Abbott was one of those, but he's told Radio National Dr Nelson is doing a good job.

TONY ABBOTT: He's doing a good job under difficult circumstances and the last thing we want to do
is develop a tradition of knifing our leaders.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The leadership, caucus rumblings and the machinations in the senate will all play
out over the next few weeks. And with new friends and alliances and new numbers in the senate, it
will all make for a decided change of pace in this session of parliament.

But how long will the new friendships last?

NICK MINCHIN: You two are very chummy, I wonder if after three years of horse trading and the
cutthroat Senate politics of deal making, you'll be chummy. I wonder if you'll be too friendly in
three years time.

NICK XENOPHON: Look I think we'll be pretty good for this week anyway.

ELEANOR HALL: Senator Nick Xenophon and Nick Minchin laughing there ending that report from Lyndal
Curtis.