Craig Kelly floats preference offer for Coalition MPs who break ranks in parliament
Katharine Murphy Political editor
Craig Kelly has signalled the United Australia party could throw a political lifeline to incumbent MPs prepared to break ranks and support two new private members bills he will bring forward during the final sitting weeks of parliament.
© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Flavio Brancaleone/AAP
The UAP plans to put all sitting members of parliament last on its how-to-vote cards in the coming federal election – a strategy prompting significant anxiety among Morrison government MPs, given the Coalition was the primary beneficiary of preference flows in the 2019 election.
But Kelly, the former maverick Liberal, and now UAP leader, says his party’s “pox on all your houses” strategy could well change depending on where MPs line up in the final sitting weeks.
“If in the final couple of weeks of parliament, if people stand up and argue for the things I’ve been supporting, we might think whether or not we preference them last,” Kelly told Guardian Australia.
Kelly confirmed that two Morrison government MPs had already made themselves exceptions to the UAP’s planned preference lockout.
He said Queenslander Llew O’Brien would be backed at the coming election, because O’Brien had supported an effort to bring on debate about his private member’s bill to prohibit commonwealth, state and territory governments and other non-government entities from issuing domestic Covid-19 vaccine passports.
O’Brien’s Queensland colleague, George Christensen, would also get UAP preferences in the event he chose to run again in the seat of Dawson, Kelly said, because of his support on many issues.
Kelly’s very obvious attempt to foment ill-discipline ahead of parliament’s resumption follows the government’s managerial difficulties in the last sitting weeks of 2021.
The Morrison government struggled to keep its program on the rails because a group of government senators refused to support routine legislation. Lower house MPs also crossed the floor to support crossbench proposals.
As MPs prepare to return to Canberra for the final sitting weeks, there has been a run of bad polls suggesting the Coalition could lose any election held today.
The Morrison government was a significant beneficiary of preference flows from the UAP and One Nation at the 2019 federal election.
Labor strategists in Queensland are hoping the Clive Palmer backed-UAP holds firm on preferencing sitting members of parliament last, because the ALP currently holds only a handful of seats in the state.
Kelly said his open invitation for colleagues to break ranks in the final couple of parliamentary weeks also applied also to Labor MPs. “This deal goes all ways,” he said.
The UAP leader says he intends to bring forward two private members bills during the pre-election sittings. The first bill would curtail the powers of the immigration minister to “arbitrarily revoke a visa”. Kelly pointed to the recent deportation of international tennis star Novak Djokovic as a case in point.
Kelly declared the Morrison government had “done what was popular at the time” by sending the tennis star packing, but he claimed decisions like deporting a high-profile visitor because of their “views on a contemporary subject” had “serious consequences” for tourism and for Australia’s ability to secure major events.
Related: Daniel Andrews hopeful Australia will redefine fully vaccinated as three doses of Covid jab
He said the second bill would be a reboot of his legislation stopping commonwealth, state and territory governments and other non-government entities from issuing domestic Covid-19 vaccine passports. Kelly said he would attempt to apply that prohibition to three vaccinations rather than two.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, is pushing via national cabinet to change the definition of fully vaccinated to mean three doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, which would pave the way for changes to vaccine mandates, which Kelly opposes.
The prime minister has not opposed the definitional change being sought by Andrews and some of the other premiers. But sources report Morrison has asked a number of questions during recent meetings with his state and territory counterparts about the practical impact of the new definition.
Vaccine mandates are highly contentious with elements of the Coalition’s base. Political parties like the UAP, the Liberal Democrats and One Nation are courting disaffected Coalition voters by fomenting a community backlash against vaccine mandates. Anti-mandate protesters marched on parliament house in Canberra on Monday, prompting police to lock down the public entrances.