Federal parliament’s sitting calendar may be extended beyond its scheduled Christmas break next week, as the government hopes to pass a raft of complex legislation and fulfil election promises before the end of the year.
The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has conceded the Senate may need “extra time” to consider his contentious industrial relations bill, with the government still needing to woo crossbench senators to pass the workplace legislation.
With just eight sitting days scheduled before the end of 2022, and bills including the national anti-corruption commission and the territory rights euthanasia changes still to be debated, the government is open to keeping politicians in Canberra to continue debate.
“We might well have to sit extra days and that’s fine. I don’t mind the parliament sitting at all,” Albanese told Sky News on Sunday.
Parliament resumes on Monday for its final scheduled sitting fortnight of the year. The current sitting calendar, designed by the Labor government and agreed to by the parliament in July, would see the last sitting day for 2022 on 1 December.
If sittings were extended beyond 9 December, it would clash with school holidays in Queensland. The government has previously said it wants to minimise sessions sittings during school holidays.
There has been talk in parliamentary and government circles for several weeks that the Senate calendar may need to be extended to deal with the raft of pending legislation. Labor had set a self-imposed deadline of passing the anti-corruption commission bill by year’s end, promised action on gas prices by Christmas, and flagged introducing updates to the referendum act, while independent ACT senator David Pocock – a crucial crossbench vote – said he wants to see the territory rights legislation passed this year.
Some politicians had also voiced support for extra sitting days beyond the start of December to make up for sitting days cancelled during the mourning period for Queen Elizabeth in September.
The government has been negotiating with Pocock on the IR bill, with his vote potentially giving Labor the Senate support it needs to pass the legislation.
Asked on Sky whether the government would need to extend the sitting calendar to get the bill through before year’s end, Albanese said he was open to it.
“That’s what we’re paid to do. So if the Senate needs extra time to give consideration to any matters before it, then I’d welcome that,” he said.
Asked on Seven News whether he was confident of passing the bill in the scheduled time, Albanese responded: “We’ll wait and see. I don’t want to pre-empt these issues. But we’re dealing with people with good faith.”
“We always negotiate and we always are collaborative … The Senate Committee report will report. We’ll look at any practical suggestions going forward which improve the legislation. If they improve it, we’ll vote for it,” he said.
The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, speaking in Brisbane, also kept the door open to extending the sitting calendar.
“This is the Senate’s big chance to get wages moving again and fix a broken bargaining system. If that requires a little extra time in the Senate, then obviously we’d be prepared to consider that,” he said.
“The prime minister has made it clear, even this morning, that our priority is to get this legislation passed before the parliament rises for the year.”
Albanese told Sky that disagreement with conditions of the IR bill from unions and employer groups “says we’re getting the balance right”.
“We need to make sure that we do lift wages. It’s something that I said consistently before the election,” he said.
“We need to have an industrial relations system that is fit for purpose, that’s in the interests of both workers but also employers. And that’s the balance we’re trying to meet.”
Also appearing on Sky News, the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, didn’t say whether he would support extending the sitting calendar but criticised the government for what he called a “rushed” process over the IR bill.
“I think we should apply a lot of scrutiny and the bill should be voted down,” he said.
“I suspect in the end the government will do a deal with David Pocock but it’s not going to be good for business and it’s not going to be good for the economy.”