Rebel Liberals Ian Macdonald and Cory Bernardi are unbending in their plans to frustrate some of their government’s key budget measures.
Senator Macdonald has signalled he will side with the Greens when the upper house votes on a temporary tax levy the government wants to impose on high-income earners from July.
Senator Bernardi doesn’t plan to go that far, preferring to abstain from the vote because the measure will pass the Senate with Labor’s support.
But neither senator was prepared to back a move by the Greens on Monday to make permanent the measure that increases for three years the top tax rate from 45 per cent to 47 per cent for income earned over $180,000.
Senator Macdonald, who has threatened to cross the floor of parliament, argues the levy should apply to corporations as well as individuals.
“I don’t think it goes far enough,” he told parliament.
Senator Bernardi’s opposition to the levy comes from his belief that Australians are paying too much income tax now.
Both senators are also likely to oppose the government’s paid parental leave scheme, a move that threatens not only to embarrass its prime backer Prime Minister Tony Abbott but scuttle the scheme as well.
“My crossing the floor might be relevant on some occasion over the next year or so,” Senator Macdonald warned.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was keen to play up the pair’s stance as a sign of disarray within government ranks.
But he also took a pot-shot at the Liberal senators over their decision to stand up for the top one per cent of income earners.
“I just wish they would stand up for low-paid people with the same vigour,” he said.
Australian Greens leader Christine Milne isn’t impressed with Labor’s decision to support the levy.
“If ever there was a con job on the Australian people this is it,” she said, adding her party couldn’t support a temporary levy while the budget made an ideological attack on the welfare system.
The government for its part is trying to play down any signs of an internal revolt, saying the burden of repairing the budget would have fallen on those receiving welfare payments if it hadn’t imposed a levy on the rich.
“Of course that is not what we think would be right,” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told parliament.