Wealth and power combine in the Senate

The Abbott government's ability to pass legislation will be greatly influenced by Australia's largest home builder, Bob Day, a keen fighter for small enterprise and self-managed super funds.

The eight senators who will determine the fate of most of the Abbott government’s legislation include two of Australia’s most successful and wealthiest businessmen – Clive Palmer and Bob Day. There is only one other self-made wealthy businessperson in Parliament – Malcolm Turnbull.

Most Australian commentary has focussed on Clive Palmer because his Palmer United Party controls three of the eight non-major party Senate votes. But the Coalition will need six of those eight Senate votes so Bob Day will carry enormous power.

Day is close to Australia’s largest home builder and a passionate advocate of independent contracting (he was founding President of the Independent Contractors Association) and the Coalition policy of fair contracts for smaller enterprises. Extending the fair contracts protection, which currently exists for consumers, to smaller enterprises is going to be vigorously opposed by many large companies (particularly shopping centres) and government departments.

Because of his deep involvement in home building, Day understands more than anyone in Australia the damage the cartel-style agreements between large commercial builders and big building unions have done to Australia.

Day will be the 'enforcer' – making sure that the Abbott government delivers on its small business policies (The Abbott cabinet is unique, September 17) and its plan to end the cartel-style agreements in the commercial building sector by reinstating the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Day is also known to be an advocate for self-managed superannuation funds and my guess is that he will be watching that Treasurer Joe Hockey and his assistant Arthur Sinodinos do not discriminate against the biggest source of superannuation funding in the country (self-managed funds) to look after mates in the big retail funds.

History tells us a lot. Both Palmer and Day wanted to enter Parliament as Liberal candidates and the party, which prefers political advisers and lawyers to business people, rejected both.

Home building is one of the toughest businesses in the country and many home builders fail. Day became one of the largest home building operators in the country because he is an excellent chief executive. He founded Homestead Homes in South Australia in 1996 and now owns Huxley Homes in New South Wales, Ashford Homes in Victoria, Collier Homes in Western Australia and Newstart Homes in Queensland. All the Bob Day building enterprises are now under the Home Australia banner, which is close to the largest home builder in the country.

As he was building his home building empire Bob Day was also a major supporter of the Liberal Party and was an endorsed Liberal candidate in the 2007 election but failed to be elected in the swing to Kevin Rudd on the back of the WorkChoices mistakes (Day opposed WorkChoices).

Then when Alexander Downer retired from the blue ribbon South Australian seat of Mayo in 2008, with the backing of Peter Costello, Bob Day stood for preselection. Ironically he was beaten by one of the key advisers on WorkChoices, Jamie Briggs, who is now assistant minister for infrastructure.

In disgust, Day left the Liberal party and joined Family First and is a major financial supporter of the party. He stood for the Senate in 2010 and was unsuccessful but won in 2013 partly because the Greens gave Family First their preferences over the ALP and Nick Xenophon (Carbon price now appears dead, October 3). 

Both Bob Day and Clive Palmer have views that do not accord with convention. Palmer wants massive spending on education and health, even though it would put Australia deep in the red. Day advocates an end to awards as we know them.

But Bob Day also knows how to work within the system and turn it to his advantage – that’s why he is close to Australia’s largest home builder. He will study government legislation and actions in incredible detail – just as Nick Xenophon does. But whereas Xenophon comes from the left of politics, Day comes from the right and will be very influential on the Palmer people and other independents in areas where they have not done detailed research.

That’s why independent contracting, fair contracts for small enterprises and an end to the big union and big commercial building cartel-style agreements, along with self-managed superannuation, will be so important.

And, of course, the carbon and mining taxes will go.