Senator Ricky Muir breaks away to deny Abbott government Senate vote on carbon tax repeal

Senator David Leyonhjelm voted with Labor and the Greens to block government moves to scrap the tax cuts linked to the carbon tax. Photo: Alex EllinghausenThe Pulse Live: Judith Ireland blogs live from ParliamentMuir and Palmer strike deal to save Australian Renewable Energy Agency

The federal government has been dealt another budget blow, with new crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm joining with Labor and the Greens to block the repeal of tax cuts for low income earners.

The surprise move came during the Senate debate on the government’s plans to scrap the carbon tax, of which the income tax breaks were a component.

The tax cuts were due to kick in from July 2015, and the government will now have to find about $1.5 billion in extra money in its already gridlocked budget to help eliminate the deficit.

The vote was one of a series of unpredictable outcomes on a morning where the government’s plans to quickly repeal the carbon tax were continually frustrated.

It included government senator Ian Macdonald crossing the floor to support an amendment from crossbencher Nick Xenohpon which would have forced the government to note that the majority of electricity price increases that have occurred were the result of network charges and not the carbon tax.

The amendment also called on the government to review national electricity rules governing the setting of network prices.

The vote on that amendment was tied 37-37, meaning it was defeated.

Earlier in Wednesday’s debate, rookie senator Ricky Muir broke away from his Palmer United Party voting bloc to deny the government a speedy vote on the repeal of the carbon tax.

The government had  moved an urgent motion in the Senate to gag debate on the carbon tax repeal bills and force a vote, but the Motoring Enthusiast Party senator voted with other crossbench senators, Nick Xenophon and John Madigan, and Labor and the Greens to ensure further debate on the bills.

The government has been determined to achieve its long-held ambition to scrap Labor’s carbon tax in the first sitting week of the new Senate.

The government had expected it would be able to force a vote by lunchtime on Wednesday, but the vote to guillotine debate was tied at 36-36, meaning the motion failed.

A final vote to repeal the carbon tax is now not expected until Thursday.

The stumble for the government came after Senator Muir threw up his second surprise in 24 hours. On Tuesday, Senator Muir became the unexpected champion of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which the government also plans to abolish.

Senator Muir was seeking amendments that would block cuts to ARENA’s funding contained in the carbon tax repeal bill.

But on Wednesday afternoon, Senator Muir and the Palmer United Party said they had struck a deal to vote against the abolition of the agency later this year, but the funding cuts contained in the carbon tax repeal bill would pass.

Labor’s leader in the Senate Penny Wong accused the government on Wednesday morning of trying to organise the Parliament around Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s media schedule, after reporters were briefed overnight to expect a vote by 12.45pm on Wednesday.

Mr Abbott in is WA with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touring a mine after which they will travel to Perth.

”I want the crossbench to be very clear what you’re being asked to do,” Senator Wong told the Senate.

”You are being asked to run this chamber so as to accord with Mr Abbott’s media schedule.

”I utterly object, as does every senator on this side, to this chamber of the Australian Parliament being used as a plaything of the Prime Minister.

”What an outrage that we would have the Senate being asked to gag and guillotine legislation so Mr Abbott can do a press conference tomorrow in time for prime time television.”

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