View from the Hill: Shorten’s victory will bring dangerous counter strikes from a desperate government


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

An extraordinary amount of hype and some confected hysteria preceded Tuesday’s vote on the medical transfer legislation.

The government threw everything at trying to avoid a defeat. In a last stand, it fell back on a constitutional argument – backed by
Solicitor-General advice – that carried no practical weight and was simply circumvented by the majority that passed the bill in the House of Representatives.




Read more:
Crossbenchers must decide between something or nothing on medical transfers bill


While the government frantically attempted to thwart Labor and the crossbench, Scott Morrison also ran the line that he wasn’t that fussed. Afterwards he told a news conference: “Votes will come and votes will go, they do not trouble me.” That claim wouldn’t pass a fact check.

This was a big vote, and everyone knew it. Morrison operates a
minority government and Tuesday’s loss underscored that he can’t
automatically get his way. (Ironically, in the last days of Turnbull’s majority government, the threat of losing a House vote came from internal dissidents.)




Read more:
The government was defeated on the ‘medevac’ bill, but that does not mean the end of the government


The next test for Morrison will be on whether the House agrees to
extra sitting days to discuss the measures from the banking royal
commission. For procedural reasons, this needs 76 votes, one more than the 75 required on the medical transfer bill. The government has been leaning heavily on Bob Katter, the crossbencher who will be the key.

While the government looked rattled as the votes on the medical
transfer bill proceeded, Labor was calm and steely.

For all the talk about Labor’s misjudgement on the issue, this week it has moved cautiously and methodically.

Originally pushed by the crossbench into taking a stand on
humanitarian grounds – the bill is based on a proposal from
independent Kerryn Phelps – Labor has sought to display compassion but contain the political risk.

Bill Shorten, knowing the danger, decided the version of the bill
coming from the Senate (which Labor had supported there) left the ALP too exposed. He flagged last week he’d like a “middle” course.

So the opposition came up with amendments to give the minister wider discretion and more time in making decisions, and to limit the application of the legislation to those on Nauru and Manus now. The latter change was to minimise the “pull” factor – the extent to which the new arrangement would encourage the people smugglers.

Then it was a matter of persuading the required six crossbenchers.
They accepted in the negotiations that a modified bill was better than nothing (though there was some Greens cavilling).

In the House, the ALP troops were kept carefully in check; the emotion was turned down; the speeches from the bill’s supporters were few and brief. Labor just wanted one thing in the chamber – a win. This wasn’t the time to grandstand.

The government, wounded and worried, is seeing this as one (albeit
major) battle in the long war to the election. Its spruikers will say that in defeat it has had a victory – that Labor has given the
Coalition ammunition for the campaign.

It’s true the bill has breathed new life into the border security
debate, but whether this will be enough to do Labor serious harm is an open question. `

The ALP is always vulnerable on boats. On the other hand, boats are lower in voters’ minds than they used to be.

The government will turn up the dial by announcing “contingency plans” against fresh arrivals. Morrison, having accused Shorten of
undermining offshore processing, is already moving on to the claim that he couldn’t be trusted to be strong on turnbacks.

Goodness knows how the politics would play out if a boat appeared on the horizon in the next few weeks. You can be sure, however, that the government would be quick to tell us about it, and point the finger at Shorten.

In all this, the bill itself (which has to go back to the Senate for a tick off on the amendments) should be kept in perspective.

The minister has a veto on “security” grounds, including being able to exclude anyone who has committed a major crime. The composition of the medical panel which would have the final say on other transfers is broad and balanced.

Probably, over a period, there would be a lot of transfers out of the 1000 people offshore. But there have already been nearly 900 (some after legal action). These transfers have amounted to a backdoor route into Australia.

If the legislation in the longer term opens that door a little wider, it will also be a way of “settling” people in Australia without acknowledging that is being done.

More of the same? Or a radical change? It depends how you look at it.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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McGowan remains tight-lipped about refugee legislation despite removal of children


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has finalised the removal of the last children from
Nauru, as it battles to head off a parliamentary defeat on legislation
to facilitate medical transfers from offshore.

Scott Morrison and Immigration Minister David Coleman said on Sunday:
“There are now only four asylum seeker children on Nauru and they have
all been approved for departure to the United States of America with
their families”.

When parliament rose for its summer break a government filibuster had
prevented amendments reaching the House of Representatives that would
put medical transfers into the hands of doctors, though with the
minister having some oversight on security grounds. The amendments –
based on a proposal originally coming from independent Kerryn Phelps
and supported by Labor – had been passed by the Senate.

At that time the legislation potentially had enough crossbench backing
in the House to pass, but it is not clear whether that will hold when
it is put to the test this month. The government is pulling out all
stops to peel away crossbench support.

Passage of the measure would be a major blow to the Coalition,
although it would not amount to a vote of no confidence. Asked about major defeats in the past, House of Representatives clerks last year had to go as far back as 1929 (which led to an election) and on the 1941 budget
(which brought down the Fadden government).

The government has been hopeful that it can persuade independent Cathy
McGowan to break ranks with other crossbench supporters of the bill.

McGowan said on Sunday it was good news about the children but she
would reserve her position on the legislation until it came before the
House, after parliament resumes on Tuesday of next week.

“Indefinite detention needs to be addressed,” she said.

Phelps said the news about the remaining children was “absolutely
fantastic” but it was “nowhere near enough”.

Hundreds of people were still languishing on Manus and Nauru and there
were “dire reports” about mental health issues, Phelps said.

The proposed change, which would see medical transfers on the basis of
the advice of two doctors, would “take medical decisions out of the
hands of bureaucrats and politicians – with appropriate ministerial
oversight on national security grounds”.

Phelps said she hadn’t seen any evidence of a weakening of crossbench
support while parliament has been in recess.

The government on Sunday declined to explain how it has been able
arrange for the removal of all the children from Nauru when Home
Affairs Minister Peter Dutton last year suggested security issues were a
barrier to removing some of them.

Dutton told parliament in October there were 13 children at that time
in family groups where there were adults, mostly males “that are the
subject of adverse security assessments from the United States.”

At his news conference on Sunday Coleman refused to clarify how these
security concerns had been resolved or where the people in question
were.

“I can’t go into specific cases but I will say that in each case issues have been worked through to the satisfaction of the Department,” he said.

Asked whether some of the children who had been brought to Australia
still had parents on Nauru because of a negative security assessment,
Coleman said: “There have been a number of issues that have been
worked through – but, no, the family groups are together”.

UPDATE

In a fresh effort to persuade the crossbenchers not to inflict a
damaging parliamentary defeat on the government, Scott Morrison has
said the government will set up a medical panel to review transfers
from Manus and Nauru.

The Medical Transfer Clinical Assurance Panel would be chaired by a
nominee of the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, and include
representatives from Foundation House (which provides services to
refugees) and the Australian Medical Association, and two nominees
from the Home Affairs department’s Chief Medical Officer.

If a transfer was rejected, the panel would look at the case, and make
a recommendation to the minister.

The structure would still leave the ultimate authority at ministerial level.

Phelps told the ABC on Monday the new panel would not solve the
problem because bureaucrats would still be making the decisions on
transfers, with the review coming later. The process needed to be
fast-tracked, she said, maintaining support for the bill that will
come to the House.

Coleman said if the bill were passed this would “effectively lead to
the end of offshore processing”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Day One of minority government sees battle over national integrity commission


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Whatever it does, the Morrison government seems to find itself caught
on the sticky fly paper. As if it didn’t have trouble enough with
trying to decide about the embassy in Israel and the religious freedom
report, on Monday it became messily entangled in the issue of a
national integrity commission.

On the first day of formal minority government, the crossbench flexed
its muscle and the government bowed to the new reality.

Well, not quite bowed – but bought time by taking a line of least resistance.

After the independent member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, introduced her
private member’s bill for a national integrity commission, the House
of Representatives considered a motion from the Senate which called on
“the federal government to establish a national anti-corruption
commission”.

The government didn’t oppose the motion, which went through on the voices.

It was claimed that Attorney-General Christian Porter wanted to set out
the government’s objections to the McGowan bill, which he couldn’t do
in private members’ time.

The real reason was the government didn’t want to test its numbers on
the floor when there could be a defector or two from its own ranks.

Porter embarked on something of a lawyer’s frolic as he pointed to
dangers in the bill.

He warned that any public official who, it could be argued, had
breached public trust or impaired confidence in public administration
“would be liable to a finding of corruption”, even for a trivial
matter.

The ABC would come under the proposed body. So Porter conjured up the
scenario of ABC political editor Andrew Probyn (who, it will be
recalled, former ABC chairman Justin Milne wanted shot) being caught
under the bill.

On Porter’s account, that would be because Probyn was found in breach
of the ABC code of practice’s provision on impartiality for saying
Tony Abbott was the “most destructive politician of his generation”.

“Under this bill before the House—no ifs, ands or buts—Andrew Probyn
would be found to have committed corruption,” Porter declared.

He didn’t sound as if he were joking but maybe the Attorney has a very
dry sense of humour.

Not that McGowan is claiming her bill has the detail right. What she
and other crossbenchers are trying to do is force the government’s
hand.

How far they’ll succeed is not clear – they’ll get something but not
the full monty.

The government’s preference would be to do nothing. But that’s no
longer politically viable. Labor is committed to a new anti-corruption
body (once it didn’t believe in one), and the level of public distrust
of the political system makes this an issue that resonates in the
community.

The government now finds itself in the rather bizarre situation of
having voted for a “national anti-corruption commission” without
committing itself to one.

In fact, such a commission is the least likely to get a tick of the
three options before the government. Porter has all but written it
off.

The other options, according to Porter, are expanding one of the
existing 13 bodies that presently deal with integrity and corruption
(probably the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity),
or merging some of them to eliminate overlap.

Ideally the way forward would be by a bipartisan approach. The issues
are indeed complex and state experience suggests the need for careful
balances and protections. But bipartisanship not the way of things
before an election.

Attacking Shorten, Scott Morrison accused him of being preoccupied
with a “fringe issue”.

Morrison said the matter would be dealt with “through a normal Cabinet
process”. Porter says this process is well underway. Indeed a lot of
it happened under Malcolm Turnbull – Porter says he has been working
on it since he became attorney-general nearly a year ago.

Both the embassy question and the religious freedom report are in
“processes” at the moment.

The government received another prod on the latter when on Monday a
Labor-chaired Senate committee recommended in its majority report that
a ban on religious schools discriminating against gay teachers should
be considered.

This goes much further than the government’s plan – bogged down in
negotiations with Labor – for legislation to prevent discrimination
against gay students. The opposition is expected on Tuesday to push the
government to act immediately on its promise to protect students.

As the Liberals took in the devastating Victorian result, there was
the feeling that the Morrison government was just holding things
together.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Labor’s 55-45% Newspoll lead adds to Liberals’ weekend of woe


Senate president and Victorian Liberal Scott Ryan, who rarely enters controversies given his position as a presiding officer, unleashed a restrained but pointed assault against the right of the party (and rightwing commentators).




Read more:
Senate president Scott Ryan launches grenade against the right


Victorian Liberal backbencher Tim Wilson delivered a sharp message to the coal lovers. “If anybody thinks that there’s this great public sentiment out there that people really deep down hate renewables and they’re hugging something like coal, I say again — get real”.

That immediately encouraged a rerun of Morrison’s coal hugging in parliament.

In question time the Prime Minister was decidedly shouty and aggressive.

And, despite the crossbenchers now looming large in his world, he
didn’t make time to sit in the chamber for Kerryn Phelps’ maiden
speech. He had other engagements, his office said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.