Don’t harass me, Lazarus tells Pyne

Glenn Lazarus has confirmed the Palmer United Party won’t support the government’s higher education reform package. AAP/Lukas Coch

Palmer United Party Senate leader Glenn Lazarus has warned Education Minister Christopher Pyne to “stop harassing” him and other crossbenchers as the government tries desperately to get its higher education deregulation plan through the Senate.

Lazarus, who earlier this week was ill in hospital, said he was being “inundated” with text messages from Pyne virtually begging him to support the legislation.

“I have never given Christopher Pyne my mobile phone number,” Lazarus said in a statement.

“I won’t be bought and I am not prepared to horse-trade,” Lazarus said. “The majority of Australians do not want increased education costs. The higher education reforms are nothing more than a sinister Abbott government budget cutting measure.”

Lazarus said the government was so desperate it would stoop to any level to win support for the package.

Ex-PUP senator Jacqui Lambie rebuffed a government offer of a A$400 million university package for her state of Tasmania that Pyne told The Australian would only be delivered if the legislation was passed.

But Lambie told reporters: “Someone go and take Christopher Pyne a box of Kleenex. It is all over for him.”

Asked whether she was prepared to knock back the $400 million, Lambie said that when the dispute over defence pay – on which she has taken a strong stand, voting against all government legislation – was fixed, “they will need my vote and I will make sure that Tasmanian university of mine gets their $400 million”.

The government has been working hard on Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiast Party, who is allied with PUP. Lambie appealed to Muir to hold firm against the package.

With Lambie and the two PUP senators – Lazarus and Dio Wang – opposed to the higher education legislation, it cannot get through. South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon also confirmed he would not support the legislation.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Monday the government was “determined to deal with this matter one way or another in this final sitting week of the year”.

Abbott, appearing on morning TV today, accused the Labor party of being in a “feral mood”. When it was pointed out that he was feral in opposition, Abbott replied: “We tried to stop the Labor Party from putting in a carbon tax, because a carbon tax was a very bad policy”.

As it struggles with the education legislation, the government has been embarrassed by the Senate amending the government’s omnibus repeal bill (which repeals “red tape” across nine portfolios) to provide for a limited tender process for the new submarines.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has ruled out a tender process, saying that “buying submarines is not like going down to the parking lot and buying a whole lot of cars”.

The government received another rebuff in today’s Newspoll which showed Abbott’s approval falling three points to a five-month low of 33%. The Coalition is trailing Labor in two-party terms 46-54% and Abbott trails Bill Shorten as better prime minister 36-43%.