Turnbull puts Parliament on hold for a week

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Stefan Postles/ Getty Images.

The Turnbull government has cancelled next week’s sitting of the House of Representatives, delaying it for a week in a bid to deal with same-sex marriage and dual citizenship problems.

With the government reduced to 73 MPs, following the resignation of former Bennelong MP John Alexander, and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce also out and facing a by-election on December 2, the start of the sitting fortnight for the House of Representatives has been moved from November 27 to December 4.

Joyce is expected to regain his seat of New England, while Alexander faces a ballot on December 16, with polls suggesting Labor challenger Kristina Keneally is narrowing his lead.

The government says it needs to deal with the dual citizenship fiasco, with senators due to disclose their status by next Friday, December 1, as well as legislation on same-sex marriage which is now expected to take longer to pass in the Senate than originally planned.

Government leader in the House of Representatives, Christopher Pyne, said the fortnight sitting period will now move back a week.

He denies it has anything to do with the lack of numbers on the government bench.

“Neither John Alexander or Barnaby Joyce would be back in the House,” he said, adding that if that was the case, they would not sit until next year.

“The Prime Minister and I have consulted the Speaker and asked that he set an alternative day for the next meeting of the House, in accordance with the Standing Orders,” he said.

“While it is entirely possible both matters could be dealt with in the week beginning 4 December, Members should be prepared for the House to sit for some or all of the second week beginning 11 December or as long as it takes legislate for marriage equality and resolve all citizenship issues.”

The change will also give MPs extra time to sort out their citizenship status, with the deadline put back from next Friday to the following Tuesday.

“We will move the resolution on the new citizenship disclosure regime in the House on December 4, setting a deadline of 8pm on Tuesday December 5 for disclosures to be lodged by Members.”

He said any referrals to the High Court from those disclosures will be debated after the passage of the marriage equality bill.

Labor accused the government of “running scared from the Parliament” as up to four backbenchers, such as Queensland LNP MP George Christensen, threatened to cross the floor and support Labor, and the crossbench for a commission of inquiry into Australia’s banks.

Opposition MP Anthony Albanese called the delay in sitting a farce.

While the government was confident last week that the private member’s bill on same-sex marriage would pass through the Senate by this Thursday, Pyne now believes it could take a week longer, until November 30.

While 61.6% of Australians who responded “yes” to same-sex marriage in the government’s postal ballot, conservative elements in the government say they are concerned about protections for religious freedoms if the legislation proceeds. The government’s senate leader, George Brandis, has already proposed two amendments to the current private member’s bill by WA Liberal Dean Smith.

But Queensland independent MP Bob Katter threatened to combine with Labor and the crossbench to hold an alternative parliament next week, even if it was on the lawn outside.

“Parliament will sit. We will form Parliament, we’ll appoint a speaker, and we will proceed. And if the Liberal Party don’t want to be there, that is their choice. But we will pass the laws of the land on Monday,” he said.

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