And so, he pulled it. Or “parked it”, as the federal government’s top negotiator, Senator Mathias Cormann, would put it.

Shortly before 6pm on Tuesday, just after new ALP Senator Kristina Keneally gave her first speech in front of a packed gallery, including Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and about 20 other MPs from “the other place”, the finance minister stood and conceded (temporary) defeat.

He could hardly be heard as Keneally was still regally shaking hands and exchanging kisses as her House of Reps cohorts filed out of the chamber.

Cormann flatly admitted that the government was still two cross-benchers short of getting the numbers (nine out of 11) for an amendment bill to phase in a controversial cut to the company tax from 30% to 25% for all businesses, under what is officially known as the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan No.2) Bill 2017.

The Xenophon duo, Senators Griff and Patrick, had always been written off by the government as concrete no votes — but there was more than a frisson of corridor excitement, in a rumour-rife week, when Stirling Griff was spotted deep in conversation with Cormann on Tuesday morning.

Those rumours grew like Topsy when it was wrongly rumoured that the Xenophon himself was in the building. The opposite of Elvis.

Nick was in Canberra but not on the Hill. Griff and Patrick told me in the Senate that they did meet with him at the airport where he was en route to an overseas holiday. The X-Factor is still so strong in Canberra though that pollies, on both sides, speculated he had negotiated one of his trademark last minute, rabbit out of the hat, deals to sell his vote. Like, in exchange for a trillion megalitres more Murray-Darling water for South Australia.

By week’s end, as the Senate rose until May, there was still speculation that Griff and Patrick had gone to the airport for their riding instructions.

That left moi and former Xenophon stalwart Tim Storer. The poor bugger had only been a Senator for a blink after being sworn in last week and having got here by what could, generously, be described as a circuitous route.

He was number four in the Xenophon pecking order for Senate consideration after Skye Kakoschke-Moore, Griff and Patrick. After Xenophon’s shock (and puzzling) resignation from Lake Burley Griffin to try to go back to a puddle, he was replaced by Patrick. Then Kakoschke-Moore was wiped out by dual citizenship and she was replaced by Storer.

The problem was, Storer had already resigned from the team. He spat the dummy because he believed he, not Patrick, should have replaced Nick. The High Court ruled ex-member Storer was still eligible to replace SK-M because of his standing at the time of the 2016 election and he took his seat last week — as an independent.

There is no way he will be reelected as an independent (Tim Who?) at the half-Senate poll next year and he must be under huge pressure to out-Xenophon Xenophon and grab the biggest bag of goodies he can from Cormann now in exchange for his vote.

The proverbial “fly in the ointment” for the government is that Storer, a former businessman with extensive networks in Asia (a plus for the government), also had past links with the ALP (a minus).

Where the company tax ball stops on his roulette wheel, over the next five weeks in recess, I have no idea.

***

Despite the “Human Headline” moniker I have gone to great lengths during the company tax saga over the past week to avoid the media. Last Thursday, I sent a message that “Elvis has left the building” and went to Darwin for a charity fundraiser for the Humpty Dumpty Foundation, hosted by the patron, Ray Martin. The night raised more than $630,000 for life-saving medical equipment for kids in 22 Outback Northern Territory hospitals and clinics. That included $200,000, I was able to announce, from the Prime Minister’s office.

To keep my head down, I cancelled scheduled appearances on Sunrise and PM Live. I even entered Parliament House through the basement. An awful admission from a former media veteran. After Finance Minister Cormann announced his retreat, I still avoided the cameras and social media. Instead I put out this brief statement:

I have had — and am still having — cordial conversations with Finance Minister Cormann. At this time, I remain unconvinced. I said, when this session of Parliament started, that I would not negotiate in the media. I don’t intend to start now.

And that’s how it will stay.

***

There were a lot of huddles on the floor of the Senate this week during the company tax shenanigans. All of it caught on long-lens cameras (thanks to my victory last year over photo restrictions). At one stage, I was talking to Greens leader Richard Di Natale when his colleague Peter Whish-Wilson lunged across the aisle and started animatedly jabbing his finger at me. The non-argument was orchestrated.

He said: “I fucking well will get my picture in the paper tomorrow, Derryn!”

My reply: “You are shameless Whish-Wilson — worse than Xenophon!”

The picture appeared on page four of The Australian next day. Senator Rachel Seiwert asked if she could do it the next day! As WW tweeted: “Who’s the Human Headline now?”

Peter Fray

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