Old threat rises to haunt Morrison
WHEN the Liberal Party is done deciding who to blame for its apparent defeat in Wentworth, it will need to refocus on governing.
That won't be easy. Until the next federal election, which is due in May, Scott Morrison faces the challenge of leading a minority government.
The same thing happened to Julia Gillard after the 2010 election, although with just 72 Labor MPs in parliament, she was even more at the mercy of the crossbench.
Here is a quick rundown of how Kerryn Phelps will change parliament.
When Malcolm Turnbull resigned from parliament, he left his seat vacant, reducing the number of MPs in the House to 149.
The government was fine at that point. Yes, it had lost a vote, but its 75 MPs were still a majority.
As Dr Phelps takes her place in the chamber, the maths will shift to look like this:
• 75 Coalition MPs, including Speaker Tony Smith;
• 69 Labor MPs;
• One Greens MP, Adam Bandt;
• Five more crossbenchers - Rebekha Sharkie, Bob Katter, Cathy McGowan, Andrew Wilkie and Dr Phelps.
Labor will oppose the government on most matters of political consequence, and we can generally expect the Greens to do the same. So, to pass his agenda, Mr Morrison will need to win the support of at least one independent.
COULD THE GOVERNMENT FALL?
Before the by-election, Mr Morrison warned voters a victory for Dr Phelps would destabilise the government.
"This is a very important by-election. The lead independent candidate Kerryn Phelps on multiple occasions couldn't even say she'd support a confidence motion. That can throw the entire government into a lot of uncertainty," the Prime Minister said.
"I know there has been a lot of instability and uncertainty but voting for an independent will only make that worse."
But the chances of a no-confidence motion succeeding, and the government falling, are still extremely slim.
For one thing, such a motion requires an absolute majority of 76 votes in parliament, which means at least one Coalition MP would need to support it.
On top of that, Dr Phelps herself has repeatedly indicated she will oppose a no-confidence motion unless something dramatic happens to change her mind.
"I've said that the government, and all governments, should go full term unless there are exceptional circumstances. The next election is due in May next year, and that's time enough," she told Insiders yesterday.
"I haven't changed my view on that. We saw that kind of recklessness last week with people voting on motions that they hadn't read and didn't understand, and that's not how I operate. I need to see a full brief. I need to know what I'm voting on."
'GOVERNMENT IN EXILE'
Peta Credlin knows a few things about the dynamics of minority government, having been Tony Abbott's chief of staff when he was opposition leader.
She told Sky News Mr Morrison's job was about to get a heck of a lot harder, and his government would struggle to seem legitimate.
"Every MP on the government's side now, and on the crossbench, becomes a kingmaker. Everyone has the right now to walk into the Prime Minister's office and demand this and demand this for their seat as a blood price," she said.
"The government is almost seen as in exile, and the opposition gets a lot more currency out there in the community.
"The government has got to be careful from here on in that they are not seen as illegitimate."
Once Dr Phelps enters parliament, we can assume Labor will renew its push to have Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton's eligibility referred to the High Court.
Previous attempts have been defeated by just one vote.
If Dr Phelps were to side with the opposition and refer the matter to the court, it would only worsen the public's impression of a government in chaos.
Meanwhile, Dr Phelps' immediate priorities include action on climate change and the asylum seekers currently stuck on Nauru.
"The first order of business is to get the kids off Nauru with their families for urgent medical and psychological attention," she said yesterday.
"The resettlement options should be explored, and New Zealand is an extremely good option, and definitely something I would like to look at."
Last week Mr Morrison said he was willing accept New Zealand's offer to resettle asylum seekers, but did not want to create other issues by doing so.
"The government does not want to see children on Nauru. We didn't put them there," he told reporters.
"I don't want to see a dead child in the water and I don't want to see a child under duress or stress or anything else.
"No one wants the human carnage to start again at sea."
A letter signed by almost 6000 doctors was delivered to the Prime Minister a week ago, pleading for children to be removed from the detention centre immediately.
Then a group of Coalition backbenchers - Russell Broadbent, Craig Laundy and Julia Banks - spoke out, saying they believed the situation facing people on the island was too harsh.
Greens MP Adam Bandt, the Centre Alliance's Rebekha Sharkie and independent Andrew Wilkie are pushing strongly as well. When Dr Phelps joins their ranks on the crossbench, their demands will have more heft.