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Morrison faces tricky final parliament week of the year

Politics

Rogue senators and controversial laws on voter ID and religious discrimination will make the final sitting of parliament for the year a spectacle.

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It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison is weighing up when to call an election, with many pundits expecting an early budget in April followed by a May election, as occurred in 2019.

But he could go earlier if strategists advise him to do so.

Mr Morrison has claimed underdog status heading into the election, with recent opinion polls giving Labor an average 53.6-46.4 per cent two-party preferred lead over the Liberal-National coalition.

While it is expected the government will bring to parliament a bill to tackle religious discrimination, it is not yet known whether it will fulfil an election promise to introduce laws setting up a Commonwealth Integrity Commission.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has said it is her intention to bring the integrity watchdog bill to parliament before the end of the term.

But earlier drafts of the bill have received the thumbs-down from Labor and crossbenchers as being too weak.

The government also faces a boycott from within its own ranks with Queensland LNP senator Gerard Rennick and South Australian Liberal Alex Antic threatening to withhold their votes over concerns about “vaccine mandates”.

Another key Senate vote, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, reiterated similar concerns in a phone call with Morrison on Thursday.

The threatened boycott could also head off government laws to force voters to show identity documents at polling booths.

The religious discrimination bill – which was promised at the 2019 election – is expected to go to the coalition joint party room on Tuesday before being introduced to parliament as early as Wednesday.

The bill will ensure that individuals cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their religious belief or activity.

But it won’t affect the operation of existing religious exemptions under anti-discrimination law, such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

Monday will be the last day in the Speaker’s chair for Tony Smith, who is considered one of the best parliamentary umpires of modern times.

The retiring Victorian Liberal MP is expected to be replaced by either Queensland LNP MP Andrew Wallace or former minister Kevin Andrews in a vote on Tuesday.

Labor will use private business in parliament to talk about “same job same pay” laws and ways to ensure government grant programs are not rorted for political advantage.

With at least a dozen MPs and senators retiring at the poll, there are likely to be a number of valedictory speeches over the fortnight.

Morrison and Labor leader Anthony Albanese have been road-testing campaign themes in recent weeks, mostly focusing on the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our absolute focus of all of my team … is to secure Australia’s economic recovery. You cannot take it for granted,” Morrison said in western Sydney on Friday.

Mr Albanese said Australia’s economy – as well as education and health services – could be much better if broadband internet was improved, rather than the government’s “horse and buggy” approach.

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