CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The Australian government won a crucial victory in Parliament on Wednesday by breaking a political stalemate that sent the country to an early election five months ago.
The Senate passed legislation that will create a corruption watchdog for the construction industry, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, by 36 votes to 33.
The vote on Parliament's second last sitting day of the year delivered Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's conservative coalition a rare win in a fractious Senate.
Turnbull called the July 2 election because the previous Senate had repeatedly rejected the legislation. Most senators regarded the watchdog as unnecessary or argued its investigative powers stripped away workers' civil rights.
But the early election tactic backfired on the ruling coalition, weakening its grip on both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The coalition was left with a single-seat majority in the House, where parties form governments. It's minority in the Senate shrunk from 33 to 30 senators among 76 seats. The election also delivered the largest ever number of anti-establishment senators not aligned to either the government or opposition — 20.
With the center-left opposition Labor Party's 26 senators steadfastly refusing to create the watchdog, the government negotiated individually with the unaligned senators to gain a majority for the vote.
The watchdog is unpopular with building unions which financially support Labor. The government is accused by opponents of unfairly targeting unions for ideological reasons.
Opinion polls show that Turnbull's popularity has waned since he overthrew Prime Minister Tony Abbott in an internal government revolt in September last year. Recent polls show the government is trailing Labor.
A previous conservative government first created the watchdog in 2005, but a Labor government dismantled it in 2012.