Dutton directive gives journalists more breathing space, but not whistleblowers



Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton appears to have backed down from his previous hardline position on AFP raids and press freedom.
AAP/Sam Mooy

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

In light of the ministerial direction issued to the Australian Federal Police by the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on August 9, it would be a spectacular contradiction in policy if the Australian Federal Police’s current pursuit of journalists were to end in prosecutions.




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The direction stated in part:

I expect the AFP to take into account the importance of a free and open press in Australia’s democratic society and to consider broader public interest implications before undertaking investigative action involving a professional journalist or news media organisation in relation to unauthorised disclosure of material made or obtained by a current or former Commonwealth officer.

So much for the uncompromising stance of Dutton and the then acting commissioner of the AFP, Neil Gaughan, that the law was the law, and if journalists broke it they could expect to be prosecuted like anyone else.

The political sensitivity of this climb-down may be gauged from the fact the direction was issued at 4pm on a Friday.

A combination of early deadlines for the Saturday papers, the incapacity of television to pull together a comprehensive story in time for the evening bulletins, and the dead air of the weekend make late Friday the preferred time of the week to drop bad or embarrassing news.

Dutton’s announcement was bereft of explanation. However, events since the AFP raids on the home of a News Corp journalist, Annika Smethurst, and on the ABC headquarters on June 5 and 6 respectively give a hint of the likely reason.

First, there was the international condemnation across the Western world of the repressive nature of the police raids, expressed in a tone of disbelief that this could be happening in a mature democracy.

Then there was the unified response from the heads of Australia’s three main news organisations, the ABC, News Corporation and Nine. Their message, delivered in a nationally televised broadcast from the National Press Club on June 26, was that a government obsessed with secrecy had now gone so far as to criminalise journalism.

There was also the statement by the Federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter, that he was “seriously disinclined” to prosecute journalists for doing journalism. His consent is needed for any such prosecution.

Faced with international condemnation, pressure from the media and the potential for a major row in Cabinet between Dutton and Porter, the government then tried to take the sting out of the situation by setting up an inquiry into press freedom.

Bizarrely, this is being conducted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), the very body that has waved through most of these repressive laws in the first place.

The inquiry has generated a body of strongly worded submissions arguing for the balance between press freedom and government secrecy to be struck in a way that is more consistent with democratic principles.

It begins its public hearings this week.

So Dutton’s ministerial direction may be seen as having two objectives: heading off a potentially damaging split in cabinet, and accomplishing a preemptive buckle before the parliamentary inquiry calls him and outgoing AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin, to give an account of themselves.

Of course, as far as anyone knows, the AFP investigations are still on foot. Already officers have removed thousands of records from the ABC, accumulated travel data concerning two ABC journalists and requested their fingerprints, as well as turning Annika Smethurst’s home upside-down.

So the government’s intimidatory tactics have had a good run already, even if prosecutions do not follow.

There is nothing to stop the police from completing these investigations and providing a brief of evidence for Porter. However, given his stated position, allied with the new political dynamics created by the reaction to the raids and Dutton’s directive, it seems unlikely prosecutions will follow.

While the ministerial direction represents a genuflection in the direction of press freedom, it provides nothing by way of protection for whistleblowers.

The direction says it

does not constrain investigation by the AFP of unauthorised disclosure of material made or obtained by a current or former Commonwealth officer.

So it seems the pursuit of whistleblowers – the people who provide journalists with leaked information – can continue unabated. They still have only a demonstrably useless law – the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 – offering a fig leaf of protection.

The present prosecutions of Richard Boyle (Tax Office) and David McBride (Defence) attest to this.

The last paragraph of Dutton’s directive deals with the process by which government departments or agencies refer leaks to the AFP, and the AFP then assesses for investigative possibilities.




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This entire reference and assessment process has been shot through with politics, either at the departmental end or the police end, or both.

That is why the ABC and Smethurst leaks – neither of which had much to do with national security but were acutely embarrassing to the government – were subject to police action.

By contrast, a leak to The Australian about the alleged security effects of the medevac legislation, which the head of ASIO Duncan Lewis publicly complained was a real threat to national security, was not subject to police action because it played into the hands of the government’s scare campaign about people-smuggling.

Dutton’s direction says:

I expect the AFP to strengthen its guidance and processes about the types and level of information required from a Government department or agency when they are referring to an unauthorised disclosure. Referring departments or agencies will need to provide a harm statement indicating the extent to which the disclosure is expected to significantly compromise Australia’s national security.

If the direction is to be taken as meaning only leaks significantly compromising national security are to be referred to the police, then there may be a larger safe space within which journalists can operate.

But the hunt for whistleblowers will go on.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

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

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Yes, Peter Dutton has a lot of power, but a strong Home Affairs is actually a good thing for Australia



The creation of the Home Affairs department means that complex and sometimes competing security and law enforcement priorities now have a strategic policy home.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Jacinta Carroll, Australian National University

It’s been two years since the government announced it would establish a Home Affairs portfolio, and just over 18 months since it came into being. Since then, the department, and its high-profile minister and secretary, have attracted much controversy, discussion and criticism.

The latest debate centres on concerns that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is further consolidating power with legislation that would prevent foreign fighters from returning home for up to two years and the recent decision to move refugee services into his department.

There’s also been criticism that the portfolio is cloaked in secrecy, with some questioning why an internal strategic review of the ministry has not been made public.

Are we seeing an unprecedented consolidation of unregulated power? Or is there a reasonable story of good public policy behind the headlines?

Creating a single defence portfolio

These questions need to be placed in the context of both history and broader developments in home affairs policy.

We’re used to having a single Department of Defence in Australia. But it was only 40 years ago that the momentous decision was made to consolidate five departments — including one for each of the armed services — into a single agency.

There was push-back at the time from some agencies, and also a focus on the high-profile personalities involved in the process, including Defence Secretary Sir Arthur Tange, and his relationship with ministers and service chiefs.




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Decades later, the Department of Defence remains a large but effective organisation with a joint strategic and operational command, supported by a capable department. But its strategically important role and the significant resources needed to do its job mean it continues to require close management, attention and review.

Last year’s decision to take the Australian Signals Directorate out of the department shows it remains a work in progress, but one that continues to head in the right direction.

The lesson is that significant change in important areas of government policy, operations and services takes time, accompanied by ongoing review and revision.

Competing agencies and priorities

Before the Home Affairs portfolio was created, there were numerous security issues that cut across government agencies and demonstrated the need for a more strategic approach and greater collaboration among agencies.

The crisis around the unauthorised boat arrivals in the late-2000s, for example, created significant tension between the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

The high number of arrivals saw demands to speed up immigration visa processing. But ASIO was seen as delaying the process as it had to ensure the largely undocumented arrivals presented no security threat.

Divisions emerged among various government agencies during the boat arrivals crisis.
Josh Jerga/AAP

It was challenging for the two agencies, with such different responsibilities, to work through these issues. There was also pressure on the Australian Defence Force to provide the operational response at sea, and on law enforcement and customs officials investigating people-smuggling operations and other related crimes.

The agencies worked reasonably well together, but were often constrained due to their separate roles and protocols that did not support collaboration. They got through the crisis, with a lot of effort.




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Counter-terrorism has been another major cross-agency issue. ASIO handled terror threat advisories and terror investigations (along with the police), while the attorney-general’s department oversaw countering violent extremism (CVE) policy.

The prime minister’s department was home to senior counter-terrorism and cyber-security coordinators, and the departments of defence and foreign affairs and trade ran their own counter-terrorism initiatives.

There was no single agency responsible for providing strategic policy direction on the issue until the establishment of Home Affairs.

One strategic policy home

The advent of Home Affairs means that complex and sometimes competing priorities have a strategic policy home and can be worked through at a portfolio level.

Immigration and ASIO are now in the same portfolio. Other agencies have also been added to the mix, including the Australian Border Force (ABF), the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC).

Even in the short period since its creation, Home Affairs has made progress in providing more effective operations and services, supported by enhanced information sharing and technical capabilities.

For example, the department now has dedicated leads overseeing cross-agency efforts on counter-terrorism, cyber-security, organised crime and foreign interference.




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Yet, the breadth of issues handled by the portfolio has also raised concerns about consolidation of power.

But most of the Home Affairs agencies are separate statutory authorities, retaining the independence and power established in their roles. The heads of ASIO and AFP, for instance, provide advice directly to the prime minister and cabinet when required and carry out their own operations.

In the aftermath of the AFP raids on media organisations, both Dutton and AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin confirmed the minister had no involvement in the operations.

Ongoing communication and appropriate oversight

The most important issue facing Home Affairs is the need for clear communication to the public on what the department does, why it’s important, and how its work is carried out. That must also include assurances the department has appropriate oversight and accountability systems in place.

This is easier said than done in the highly charged political atmosphere that’s surrounded Home Affairs since its inception.

It’s good news, then, that Labor chose to establish a shadow home affairs minister after the federal election, thereby working with the new Home Affairs arrangements and letting the portfolio as a whole settle down.

The oversight and accountability mechanisms are also doing what they’re supposed to do. The proposed security laws, for example, were scrutinised by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), which recommended changes to reduce the minister’s power.

Most suggestions were incorporated in the revised legislation, though Labor still has concerns about the minister’s power to grant a temporary exclusion order (TEO) for returning foreign fighters. The PJCIS will continue to examine the use of TEOs, as will the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and other oversight organisations.

The PJCIS is also due to report to parliament in October on its inquiry into press freedom, which will shed light on issues related to the AFP raids. And we’ll likely see the key findings of Home Affairs’ internal review as its annual report and regular Senate Estimates appearances approach.

Anti-Dutton signs after a rally to protest the AFP raids on journalists in June.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Why it should work

The creation of Home Affairs enables a more strategic and integrated approach to security, law enforcement, migration and border issues. It also means more efficient delivery of services.

But there are significant challenges to doing this and getting it right, particularly while managing such a vast portfolio of operations and responsibilities. Maintaining a balanced approach, and ensuring considered and appropriate oversight and review will be critical to its success.

More than 40 years after its creation, the Department of Defence is held up now for its strategic vision and stewardship of the country’s armed forces. The divisive politics surrounding its creation have long been forgotten.

And so it should be with Home Affairs. The creation of the portfolio is ultimately a good thing for Australia and for good public policy and services. But this is a long-term endeavour and the project is still in its early days.The Conversation

Jacinta Carroll, Senior Research Fellow, Counter Terrorism and Social Cohesion, National Security College, Australian National University

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

There’s no clear need for Peter Dutton’s new bill excluding citizens from Australia


Sangeetha Pillai, UNSW

Yesterday, the government introduced a bill into Parliament that, if passed, would allow the home affairs minister Peter Dutton to temporarily exclude some Australian citizens – including children – from returning to Australia.

The bill is aimed at mitigating threats posed by foreign fighters coming back to Australia from conflicts in Syria and Iraq. It was first put before Parliament in February, and has now been reintroduced with some amendments.




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The bill draws on similar legislation in the UK and, if passed, would add to an arsenal of around 75 pieces of anti-terrorism legislation currently operating in Australia.

National security laws must continue to adapt to changing circumstances. But the government has not made it clear how the bill would fill an identified gap in Australia’s already extensive national security regime.

How would the bill work?

If passed, the bill will allow the minister to issue a Temporary Exclusion Order (TEO) preventing an Australian citizen who is overseas from re-entering Australia. These exclusion orders aren’t designed to exclude citizens from Australia forever, but rather to provide a system that manages their return.

A TEO can be imposed on a citizen outside Australia if they are at least 14 years old, and:

  • the minister reasonably suspects that issuing the TEO would substantially help prevent terrorism-related acts, or

  • ASIO has assessed the person to be a direct or indirect risk to security, for reasons related to political violence. ASIO doesn’t need to be satisfied to any standard of proof when making this assessment.

But neither of these criteria actually requires a TEO candidate to have engaged in any wrongdoing.

A person may not enter Australia while a TEO is in force against them. If they do, they can face up to two years behind bars. A TEO may also require the person to surrender their Australian passport.

Each TEO can be issued for a maximum of two years, but a person may have multiple TEOs issued against them. This means the actual period of exclusion from Australia can be much longer.

So how does a return to Australia work?

The return of citizens with TEOs against them is managed through “return permits”. This is designed to allow the government to monitor and control foreign fighters’ entry and presence in Australia. A return permit must be issued if the person applies for one, or if a foreign country moves to deport them to Australia.




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A return permit may prescribe various conditions. Significantly, it doesn’t guarantee an immediate right to return to Australia – a person may be prohibited from entering Australia for up to 12 months after the permit is issued.

Once in Australia, a range of post-entry conditions may also be imposed. These can include passport surrender, and requirements to report changes to residence or employment, contact with particular individuals and technology use.

Breaching the conditions of a return permit is an offence, punishable by up to two years in prison.

Are the proposed laws constitutional and compatible with international law?

The right to return to one’s country is commonly regarded as a core aspect of citizenship. And some experts have argued that a citizen’s right to return home is constitutionally protected in Australia.

But the High Court has never ruled on the question of whether a constitutional right of this nature exists, so it’s impossible to say for certain whether the bill, if passed, would be unconstitutional. Still, it’s likely to face constitutional challenge.

In any case, international law protects an individual’s right to voluntarily return to their country of citizenship. The government acknowledges that TEOs restrict a person’s capacity to do this, but says the bill is justified because it’s “reasonable, necessary and proportionate”. This, however, isn’t clear.

Does the bill contain adequate safeguards?

In April, when reviewing the original bill, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security recommended 18 changes, aimed at improving safeguards.

But the new bill only took on seven changes in full, including requiring the minister to consider specific criteria when imposing a TEO on a child, and providing independent oversight of decisions to issue TEOs.




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Importantly, some of the committee’s most significant recommendations have been ignored, such as narrowing the criteria for issuing a TEO. And others have only been partially implemented.

Given the significant impact a TEO has on a person, the bill should adopt the committee’s recommendations in full.

Is the bill even necessary?

In parliament, Dutton said national security agencies advise that many Australians who have travelled to conflict zones in Syria and Iraq to support extremist groups are “likely to seek return to Australia in the very near future”, and the bill is needed to keep Australians safe.

But the government hasn’t explained why Australia’s extensive suite of existing anti-terrorism mechanisms doesn’t already adequately protect against threats posed by Australians returning from conflict zones.

Australia’s 75 pieces of legislation provide for criminal penalties, civil alternatives to prosecution, expanded police and intelligence powers, and citizenship revocation.

And they protect Australia from the risks posed by returning foreign fighters in a variety of ways.

For example, a person who returns to Australia as a known member of a terrorist organisation can be charged with an offence punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Where the person has done more – such as fight, resource or train with the organisation – penalties of up to 25 years each apply.

Although gathering sufficient evidence to prosecute returning foreign fighters can prove challenging, there are mechanisms in our legislation that already account for this.

For instance, a control order may be imposed on a person in cases where they are deemed a risk but there is not enough evidence to prosecute. This restricts the person’s actions through measures such as curfews and monitoring requirements.




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Evidence shows the existing measures work effectively. Police and intelligence agencies have successfully disrupted a significant number of terror plots using existing laws, most recently just days ago.

Arguably, this suggests Australia has not only the capacity, but also the responsibility to use the full force of our laws to bring foreign fighters to justice in Australia, rather than leave them stranded in conflict zones where their only connections may be to terrorist groups, thereby weakening global security.

Of course, if it’s to remain fit for purpose, Australia’s national security framework must continue to adapt to changing circumstances. But with extensive, demonstrably effective mechanisms in place, the government must clearly explain what gap this bill would fill. This has not been done.The Conversation

Sangeetha Pillai, Senior Research Associate, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW Law School, UNSW

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

If Dutton had defeated Turnbull, could the governor-general have stopped him becoming prime minister?


Had Peter Dutton won the 2018 leadership ballot and become prime minister, the governor-general may have had some tricky legal arguments on his hands.
AAP/Ellen Smith

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

Who decides who is to be prime minister?

When Malcom Turnbull was challenged by Peter Dutton in August 2018 for the leadership of the Liberal Party, and ultimately the prime ministership, Turnbull apparently asserted that the governor-general would not appoint a person whose eligibility to hold the office was in doubt.




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His attorney-general, Christian Porter, reportedly replied that Turnbull was “wrong in law” and that the governor-general could only have regard to issues of confidence.

Who was right, and what might have happened if Dutton had been chosen as leader of the Liberal Party?

Not a choice between Dutton and Turnbull

The governor-general can only act to fill a vacancy in the prime ministership if there is one. If Dutton had defeated Turnbull in a leadership challenge, this would not itself have vacated the office of prime minister. Turnbull would have continued as prime minister until he resigned (or in extreme circumstances, was dismissed). So the governor-general would not have faced the question of whether or not to appoint Dutton as prime minister until Turnbull had indicated he was going to resign.

The choice would then have been between Dutton and whoever else the governor-general considered was most likely to hold the confidence of the house. It would be unlikely that the governor-general would seek to reappoint the prime minister who had just resigned, unless he was the only person who could hold the confidence of the lower house.

This would seem most unlikely in the circumstances.

What if Turnbull had advised the governor-general to appoint someone else?

The more plausible scenario would have been that Turnbull resigned as prime minister but advised the governor-general to appoint someone other than Dutton, such as Julie Bishop, due to concerns about Dutton’s possible disqualification under section 44 of the Constitution. This raises the question of whether the advice of an outgoing prime minister about who should be his or her successor is conventionally binding on the governor-general.

Ordinarily, the principle of responsible government requires the governor-general to act on the advice of ministers who are responsible for that advice to parliament, and through parliament to the people.

But that principle only works when the minister continues to be responsible for that advice. An outgoing prime minister necessarily ceases to be responsible to parliament for advice about his or her successor. The governor-general is instead obliged, by convention, to appoint as prime minister the person who is most likely to command the confidence of the lower house, regardless of what the outgoing prime minister advises.

While this is the orthodox constitutional position, there is still some controversy about it. When Kevin Rudd defeated Julia Gillard for the leadership of the Labor Party in 2013, it was not clear whether the crossbenchers who supported the minority Gillard government would support Rudd.

The then governor-general, Quentin Bryce, sought advice from the acting solicitor-general as to whether to appoint Rudd as prime minister on the basis of Gillard’s advice. The acting solicitor-general advised that the governor-general should do so, and appeared to take the view that the outgoing prime minister’s advice was conventionally binding.

He did not advise the governor-general that her sole consideration should be who held the confidence of the house.

Who advises the governor-general on legal issues?

If, in 2018, the governor-general had sought legal advice about his powers and the conventions that govern them, two questions would have arisen. First, who should provide the advice? Should it be the solicitor-general, the attorney-general, or the even the prime minister?

In 1975, when the governor-general asked for legal advice, the prime minister, Gough Whitlam, said it could only come through him. The attorney-general and the solicitor-general prepared a joint draft advice, but it was not provided promptly.

When a frustrated governor-general, Sir John Kerr, called in the attorney-general to get the advice, he was presented with a draft that the attorney-general apparently said he had not carefully read and did not necessarily reflect his views. Kerr later, controversially, sought the advice of the chief justice, Sir Garfield Barwick.

In more recent times, the solicitor-general has provided advice to the governor-general, as occurred in 2013. Even then, that advice was controversial, as it addressed how the governor-general “should” act, rather than simply advising on the powers and conventions that applied and leaving the governor-general to decide how to apply them.

There is currently no clear position in Australia on who should provide legal advice to the governor-general and the constraints upon the type of advice that should be given. This needs to be addressed in the future.

What happens when advice conflicts?

The second question is how the governor-general should deal with conflicting advice, which in 2018 was a real possibility.

For example, the solicitor-general could have taken the same view as the previous acting solicitor-general – that the advice of the outgoing prime minister is binding. The attorney-general, Christian Porter, apparently took the view that it was not binding, and that the governor-general should only consider who held the confidence of the house.

The prime minister is likely to have taken the view that the governor-general was bound to act on his advice not to appoint Dutton as prime minister, or that if the governor-general had a discretion, he should take into account the doubts about legal eligibility and refuse to appoint a person who might be disqualified from parliament.

There is no rule book that tells the governor-general how to deal with conflicting legal and ministerial advice. Ultimately, in this case, it was a reserve power that was in question and the discretion was a matter for the governor-general to exercise.

Confidence and eligibility when appointing a prime minister

Assuming the governor-general accepted the orthodox view that the appointment of a prime minister is a reserve power governed by the convention that the prime minister should hold the confidence of the lower house, what should he have done in this scenario?

The first issue is one of confidence. It is not certain that even if Dutton had been appointed leader of the Liberal Party, he would have held the confidence of the house. There may well have been defections that altered the balance of power.




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Hence the governor-general, as occurred in 2013, could have required an assurance to be given by the prospective prime minister that he would immediately face the house to allow it to determine confidence.

The second issue concerns eligibility. The governor-general is obliged to obey the Constitution. If the Constitution plainly prohibits action, such as appointing a prime minister in certain circumstances, the governor-general is obliged to obey it.

But where the legal question is contestable, it is not up to the governor-general to determine it. In this case, the Constitution and the law confer the power on the relevant house, or the High Court acting as the Court of Disputed Returns, to determine disqualification from parliament.

Further, the Constitution allows a person to be a minister, without holding a seat in parliament, for up to three months. So the governor-general could legally have appointed Dutton as prime minister, but might first have required his assurance that he would ensure his eligibility was resolved by a reference to the High Court.

In this way, the governor-general would have protected the Constitution and the rule of law while still complying with the principle of responsible government. Of course, he may have had some difficulty persuading Dutton to give those assurances. But this is precisely why we appoint as governor-general people with the authority and gravitas to ensure that the Constitution is respected and upheld.The Conversation

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

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

Turnbull slams Porter for “nonsense” advice


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has accused Attorney-General Christian Porter of providing advice to him that was constitutional “nonsense”, as the divisive events around the former prime minister’s removal are revisited.

Turnbull launched his acerbic Twitter attack following reports that the day before he was deposed last August, he clashed with Porter over trying to involve Governor-General Peter Cosgrove in the leadership crisis. Turnbull was seeking to ensure Peter Dutton did not become prime minister if he won the leadership.

Meantime, Dutton has revealed that before the May election he removed himself from involvement in a family trust – an involvement that last term had raised doubts about his eligibility to sit in parliament. The trust received money from his wife’s child care business, and child care receives government subsidy.

Dutton always maintained he was on safe constitutional ground and his spokeswoman on Thursday reaffirmed that he had had legal opinions saying he was not in breach of section 44. During the leadership crisis the Solicitor-General provided advice, taking the view Dutton was eligible, though he left some doubt.

“Nonetheless, to silence those who are politically motivated and continue to raise this; prior to the minister’s nomination at the May election, he formally renounced any interest in the trust in question,” she said.




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Accounts of the contretemps between Turnbull and Porter were published in Thursday’s Australian and by Nine newspapers.

Turnbull argued Cosgrove should refuse to commission Dutton, if he won the leadership, on the grounds he might be constitutionally ineligible to sit in parliament.

Porter insisted Turnbull’s suggested course would be “wrong in law” – that the eligibility issue was not a matter for the governor-general – and threatened to repudiate Turnbull’s position if he advanced it publicly at an imminent news conference.

The Attorney-General had a letter of resignation with him, in case he needed to provide it.




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The events of last year will be extensively raked over in coming weeks in books by journalists Niki Savva and David Crowe. They featured in a Sky documentary this week.

Turnbull refought his battle with Porter on Thursday, tweeting: “The discretion to swear in a person as PM is vested in the Governor General. The proposition advanced by Mr Porter that it is none of the GG’s business whether the would be PM is constitutionally eligible is nonsense. The GG is not a constitutional cypher.

“During the week of 24 August 2018 there was advice from leading constitutional lawyers Bret Walker that Dutton was ineligible to sit in the Parliament and thus ineligible to be a Minister, let alone Prime Minister. I ensured we sought the advice of the Solicitor General.

“I took the responsible course of action, obtained the necessary advice, published it and the Party Room was informed when it made its decision to elect Mr Morrison, rather than Mr Dutton, as leader.”

Porter, speaking on radio on Thursday, confirmed the accuracy of the media reports, including the tense nature of the meeting. “Sometimes meetings in government aren’t all potpourri and roses,” he said.

Porter said an attorney-general’s role was to provide advice they considered accurate and legally correct.

“Sometimes that advice is not always what people want to hear. But I’ve always taken very seriously the role and the fact that the role requires to give advice to the best of your legal knowledge and ability you think is accurate and correct.

“And that’s what I’ve always tried to do, that’s what I did during the course of that very difficult week.”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.

Peter Dutton is whipping up fear on the medevac law, but it defies logic and compassion



The medevac law was passed to streamline the process for emergency medical evacuation of refugees from Manus Island and Nauru. Thirty-one people have been transferred since its passage.
Refugee Action Coalition

Alex Reilly, University of Adelaide

With all the hyperbole about the medevac law, it is easy to lose sight of its purpose.

Refugees have been transferred off Nauru and Manus Island for emergency medical treatment since offshore detention restarted on these islands in 2013. The Department of Home Affairs reported to Senate estimates that 898 refugees and asylum seekers had been sent to Australia for medical treatment prior to the passage of the medevac law earlier this year. Of those, 282 were returned to Manus and Nauru after receiving treatment, and the rest remained in Australia in detention.

These transfers occurred in response to pleas from doctors and health professionals on an ad hoc basis. And it was up to the Home Affairs Department and Minister Peter Dutton whether to comply with such a request. Medical emergencies could include life-threatening brain or heart conditions, complex abortions, or emergency psychiatric care for children at risk for suicide – all of which are beyond the capacity of the health systems on Nauru and Manus to treat.

Although some refugees were granted emergency medical evacuation, many others were not. In response, legal cases were brought against the government for breaching its responsibility to care for the refugees.




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This required the federal court to convene at short notice to hear cases. It also required the expenditure of huge amounts of taxpayer money to call expert medical witnesses and file thousands of pages of supporting documentation.

Because of the delays in treatment, these legal battles were enormously risky for those in need of medical care.

Through these early cases, the court established that it was a breach of the government’s duty not to provide refugees with emergency medical treatment. And yet, the Home Affairs Department continued to fight applications for transfers for emergency medical treatment, only to be overturned by the courts, time and time again.

How the process works under the medevac law

The medevac law was passed due to concerns the department was rejecting transfer applications for political rather than medical reasons. The point was to provide an expedient, objective process to determine whether transfers were required.

And despite the Coalition government’s opposition to the bill, the process for determining which refugees are moved off Nauru and Manus for treatment remains highly deferential to the minister and Department of Home Affairs.




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There are two stages to this process.

First, two doctors must assess the person and make a recommendation for transfer. The federal court recently ruled it was possible to make this medical assessment based on documentation alone, as opposed to an in-person or teleconference assessment. This was a necessary adjustment to the law, given that the Nauru government has banned teleconferences for residents.

The minister is required to approve or refuse the recommendation for transfer within 72 hours. There are three grounds for refusal:

  1. the person is deemed a security risk
  2. the person has a “substantial criminal record” (which equates to having been convicted of an offence with a sentence of imprisonment for 12 months or more)
  3. the minister does not accept the transfer is necessary on medical grounds.

If the minister rejects the transfer on medical grounds, the second stage of the process kicks in, with an independent health advice panel (IHAP) assessing the doctors’ recommendation. It is important to note that this panel is comprised of government medical officers and other health professionals appointed by the minister.

To date, there have been 31 medical transfers under the law. In addition, nine recommendations were refused by the government. The panel of health experts upheld seven of the minister’s refusals, and overturned two.

Dutton’s claims don’t stand up under scrutiny

Dutton has made a number of claims about the impact of the medevac law that he argues justify its repeal. All defy reason and logic.

First, the minister has claimed “activist doctors” were using the law to bring people to Australia when they do not require emergency medical care.

This is frankly highly offensive to the medical profession in Australia, and contradicts the clear intention of the law to take politics out of transfer decisions. Even if doctors making the initial recommendation are too left-leaning for Dutton, the expert panel is stacked with medical practitioners of his choosing.




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There are 70 million refugees in the world. Here are 5 solutions to the problem


Second, the minister has argued that the capacity to be transferred to Australia for emergency medical treatment will lead to a resumption of the people-smuggling trade.

This is patently absurd. It is true that people smugglers can make up all sorts of stories about Australia relaxing its policies and it being easier to get to Australia. But the facts are crystal clear: the Coalition government maintains a policy of boat turn-backs and indefinite offshore detention for anyone thinking of making the journey.

Medical transfers to Australia are for a temporary period. Once people have been treated, they are returned to detention on Nauru or Manus. It is true that many asylum seekers have remained in Australia for extended periods for ongoing treatment, but these refugees remain within the immigration detention system. They are escorted to medical appointments and remain under guard while receiving treatment. They are given no hope of putting down roots in Australia.

The deterrent to people smugglers remains overwhelming. And, unsurprisingly, we have not seen a restarting of boat arrivals following the passage of the medevac law. Dutton’s own department has signalled this is unlikely in a briefing:

[Potential illegal immigrants] will probably remain sceptical of smuggler marketing and await proof that such a pathway is viable, or that an actual change of policy has occurred, before committing to ventures.

The only possible messaging that people smugglers might use to persuade people to get on a boat is the Coalition government’s own dire warnings of reopening the floodgates and political stunts like the brief resurrection of the Christmas Island detention centre at the staggering cost to taxpayers of over A$180 million.

Dutton’s third claim is that some refugees are refusing resettlement offers in the US because of the medevac law.

Again, it defies logic for refugees to refuse the US option – it is the only hope of resettlement currently on offer. One wonders whether the minister is using this claim as a cover for the fact that transfers to the US have come to a grinding halt under President Donald Trump.

The medevac law and human compassion

For over six years, successive Australian governments have maintained an unwavering narrow focus on stopping refugee boats with no concern for the victims of this policy – the innocent people on Manus and Nauru.

These people are under Australia’s care. It is Australia that pays the governments of Nauru and PNG to house offshore detention centres to create the disincentive for others to travel by boat to Australia. It is Australia that pays the security companies to keep them detained. And so it is Australia that is responsible for the dramatic decline in their mental and physical health.

It is the narrowest of concessions to offer emergency medical treatment in Australia to people we have so mistreated.The Conversation

Alex Reilly, Director of the Public Law and Policy Research Unit, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

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

View from The Hill: Kristina Keneally vs Peter Dutton should produce plenty of political bloodsport


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Kristina Keneally is continuing her rise and rise, appointed to “shadow” Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, in Anthony Albanese’s frontbench bench line up announced on Sunday.

After last week obtaining a place in the shadow ministry and becoming Labor’s deputy Senate leader, with two men standing aside to make way for her, Keneally now takes on one of the toughest players in the Coalition. She’ll also cover immigration, which comes under the home affairs portfolio but has a separate minister in the government’s ranks.

At Bill Shorten’s side all through the election campaign, Keneally didn’t recoil from the task of head kicking. She called Dutton a “thug” and “the most toxic man in Australian politics”.

Dutton is a head kicker from way back. On Sunday he was quickly out of the blocks. “Kristina Keneally I predict will be somebody who is very spiteful, very nasty and very personal in her attacks, that’s been her history,” he said, adding, “I’m not going to attack Kristina Keneally on a personal basis”.

They could make the perfect matchup for those into political blood sports.

Home Affairs to continue under Labor


@KKeneally

The appointment does mean, and Albanese confirmed, that the opposition is committed to the home affairs portfolio long term, despite Labor’s platform providing for a review.

Asked “now that you have a home affairs shadow minister, does that mean you will preserve the portfolio if in power?” Albanese said: “Obviously the position we have as a shadow ministry is the one that we hope to take to an election and one that we hope to then implement if we were in government”.

Keneally tweeted:“@AlboMP’s decision to introduce a Shadow Home Affairs portfolio sends a clear message that Labor will ensure Australians are kept safe. Labor fully supports offshore processing, boat turnbacks where safe to do so, and regional resettlement”.

Another notable feature of the Albanese frontbench is Bill Shorten’s appointment as shadow for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and government services, where he will be up against minister Stuart Robert.

It brings Shorten (who wanted health) back to where he started on the ladder after arriving in parliament at the 2007 election, when he was appointed parliamentary secretary for disabilities and children’s services. His work in the disabilities area laid a foundation for the NDIS.

NDIS is now politically important

This is not a high profile post for Shorten but because both he and Robert will have a good deal to prove, it could further ensure the NDIS gets a lot of attention, which will be a good thing.

Albanese made a point of his shadow cabinet having equal numbers of men and women, 12 each, when shadow cabinet secretary Jenny McAllister is included.

The four new members of the shadow cabinet are all women: Keneally, Katy Gallagher, Terri Butler and Madeleine King.

At every opportunity Labor highlights that it does way better on the gender front than the government; frequently, Scott Morrison seeks to argue he is doing better than the Liberals did before.

Chalmers is Labor’s voice on economics

As expected, former finance spokesman and Queenslander Jim Chalmers becomes shadow treasurer. Chalmers has a formidable job in front of him, having simultaneously to carry the day-to-day economic argument while being at the centre of the overhaul of Labor’s most controversial election policies.

His colleagues and the public will have abundant opportunity to assess someone who aspires to be leader in the longer term.

Chalmers’ first task and Labor’s first test will be when the new parliament considers the income tax cuts legislation at the start of July. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann reiterated on Sunday that the government will not split the package, which includes tax relief for higher income earners in later years.

As part of the new economic team Gallagher, one-time ACT chief minister – who has returned to the Senate from her exile in the citizenship crisis – becomes shadow minister for finance.

Albanese performs a balancing act

Former shadow treasurer Chris Bowen will be health spokesman; the previous occupant of that post, Catherine King, moves to infrastructure, transport and regional development.

Tony Burke goes from environment to industrial relations, with Brendan O’Connor, who previously had employment and workplace relations, keeping the former but losing the latter and acquiring industry. This removes the conflict of interest he had, with his brother Michael being secretary of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union.

A number of shadows remain in their old portfolio spots – one is the new deputy leader Richard Marles (defence). Others include Penny Wong (foreign affairs), Tanya Plibersek (education), Mark Butler (climate change and energy), and Michelle Rowland (communications). But Plibersek loses responsibility for women, which goes to Julie Collins. It remains to be seen how much refashioning Butler will have to do to Labor’s climate policy.




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There will be the odd interesting balancing act, such as on coal issues. Queenslander Terri Butler, from the left, gets environment and water; Joel Fitzgibbon, from the right, who was concerned how the coal debate swung votes against him in his mining seat of Hunter, has resources added to his responsibility for agriculture.

Linda Burney will cover Indigenous Australians in addition to her previous responsibilities of families and social services. It will be important how she and the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, both themselves Indigenous, choose to balance conflict and consensus in this area.

Leigh gets looked after, Husic declines offer

Shayne Neumann has taken a big tumble, from immigration and border protection and a member of shadow cabinet, to veterans affairs and defence personnel in the outer shadow ministry.

Pat Dodson is shadow assistant minister for reconciliation, and Andrew Leigh, who lost his shadow ministry because he didn’t have a faction, has been awarded a position as shadow assistant minister for treasury.

But Ed Husic, who stood down so Keneally could get one of the right’s spots in the shadow ministry, is not even in a shadow assistant minister position. He could have had one – they were in the gift of Albanese – but declined. Which is rather a pity, given his talents.


For the fridge door:The Conversation


Australian Labor Party

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: Peter Dutton – Labor’s not-so-secret weapon against Hunt and Sukkar



File 20190415 147511 1dwwsvk.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Screenshot from Labor Party advertisement linking Peter Dutton to Liberal candidates.
Australian Labor Party, Author provided

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

While Peter Dutton is fighting for his political life in his marginal Brisbane seat of Dickson, he is being “weaponised” by Labor in its efforts to defeat two of his strongest Victorian supporters, Greg Hunt and Michael Sukkar, despite their relatively solid margins.

Last August, a clutch of Victorian Liberals including Hunt and Sukkar thought the government collectively, and in some cases they individually, would be better off with the rightwinger from Queensland as prime minister.

Greg Hunt aspired to be Dutton’s deputy. If he and Dutton had won their respective ballots Hunt, rather than Josh Frydenberg, would now be treasurer.

Instead, he remains health minister and is facing a tough contest in Flinders, made more difficult by crossbencher Julia Banks running there as an independent. Banks, the Liberal defector who formerly occupied Chisholm, was particularly angered by the overthrow of Malcolm Turnbull and has made a feature of Hunt’s disloyalty.

Sukkar, the member for Deakin, a hard line conservative who was an assistant minister before the coup and a backbencher after it, did numbers for Dutton.

On Monday Labor launched a social media campaign weaponising Peter Dutton in the fight to unseat Hunt and Sukkar in Flinders and Deakin.



The targeting is based on internal tracking research showing Dutton is especially toxic in those two seats.

Quotes from the Labor focus groups included:

Even though I normally vote Liberal I’d love to see Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott stitched up

I am a Liberal voter but this time I can’t because of what Peter Dutton did to Malcolm Turnbull

In usual circumstances Deakin (on 6.4%) and Flinders (7%) should be safe. But after the November state rout of the Liberals – when the overthrow of Turnbull was a major factor and Dutton’s face had been on billboards – nothing is certain.

The Liberals think some of this anger has abated but the Victorian situation remains grim, with a number of seats at risk in a state John Howard has called the Massachusetts of Australia.

Labor has around ten seats on its “target” list for attention. While Dutton may be featured in other seats, there is less of a “hook” for him than in those of Hunt and Sukkar.

When Scott Morrison announced the election last Thursday, Bill Shorten delivered his speech later from a suburban home in Deakin.

On Monday Morrison was campaigning with Sukkar – who was anxious to leave most of the talking to the Prime Minister.

Asked how much Sukkar’s support for Dutton had contributed to the problems the government was facing in Deakin and Victoria, Morrison stonewalled: “That is such a bubble question, I’m just going to leave that one in the bubble”.

One of the Labor posters that will appear in the Victorian seats of Deakin and Flinders.

In the video Labor targets Dutton over a broad range of issues, including his support, as health minister under Tony Abbott, for a proposed $7 Medicare co-payment, which was later dumped.

His co-payment history is expected to get a wider outing in a campaign in which Labor is running heavily on health.

The video asks

How much will Peter Dutton and the Liberals stand up for Victoria? Let’s check. He tried to give a $17 billion tax cut to the banks, cut $14 billion from Australian public schools

It says

Peter Dutton was the health minister who tried to cut more than $50 billion from public hospitals and also tried to introduce the $7 GP tax. He made fun of climate change victims and voted against the banking royal commission 24 times.

And with the other right-wing Liberals he plotted to dump Malcolm Turnbull and voted to make himself prime minister, twice.Right-winger Peter Dutton for the top end of town and himself.“

There are also customised posters in Victoria featuring Dutton, especially for Deakin and Flinders.

Dutton has played into Labor’s hands in the early days of the campaign, with his remark last week attacking his opponent, amputee Ali France, for not moving into Dickson, accusing her of using her disability as an excuse.

“A lot of people have raised this with me. I think they are quite angry that Ms France is using her disability as an excuse for not moving into our electorate,” he said.

“Ali has been telling people that even if she won the election she won’t move into our electorate. She has now changed that position, but I don’t think it is credible.”




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Morrison initially defended Dutton, claiming he was taken out of context and was just reflecting what his constituents had said to him.

Subsequently Dutton apologised.
On Monday Morrison too had changed his tune. “Peter has made his apology appropriately. What I don’t want to see happen in this election campaign is, I don’t want to see people playing politics with disabilities. I have very strong personal views about this topic”.

Nationally, Peter Dutton will have a big footprint in the campaign. It won’t be a helpful one for Morrison.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: Dutton suffers reflux after tasty Chinese meal


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The fallout from the extraordinary revelations about Peter Dutton’s contact with Chinese Communist Party-aligned billionaire Huang Xiangmo is a potent brew, its ingredients the issue of foreign interference and the legacy of last year’s leadership challenge.

A tale full of spooky overtones, mates, ironies, and payback.

Monday’s Four Corners-Age-Sydney Morning Herald investigation reported that Dutton, immigration minister at the time, in 2015 approved a private citizenship ceremony for Huang’s family, who were due to travel overseas.

Dutton justifies the special treatment as being in response to a request from then-Labor senator Sam Dastyari.

That would be the same Dastyari who in December in 2017 announced he would resign from the Senate after revelations that he had promoted Chinese interests, including at a notorious news conference where he stood beside Huang.

(Dutton is generous in responding to personal representations – he, it will be remembered, was the minister who provided a quick rescue service for a couple of stranded au pairs).

Four Corners reported that in 2016 – when Huang was anxious to get his own citizenship – lobbyist Santo Santoro, a former Howard government minister and close to Dutton, arranged a lunch between the businessman and the minister at Master Ken’s (upmarket) restaurant in Sydney’s Chinatown.

Dutton denies the lunch was about Huang’s citizenship bid. “He didn’t make representations to me in relation to these matters,” Dutton said on Tuesday, also stressing he’d received no donation (Huang over several years donated, to both sides of politics, between $2 million and $3 million).

Huang didn’t get his citizenship and last year his permanent residency was cancelled. The officials charged with examining his background and activities judged him unsuitable to be one of us.

The Australian Financial Review reported that, in relation to the cancellation of his residency, ASIO had found he was “amenable to conducting acts of foreign interference”. Cancellation of a permanent resident’s visa is a decision taken by the immigration minister or a senior official within the Home Affairs department, which is responsible for immigration and citizenship matters. By this time, David Coleman had oversight of immigration.

Scott Morrison, desperate to smother what is on most criteria a damaging story coming almost on the eve of the election being called, insists there is nothing to see in Dutton’s conduct.

“I’ve spoken with Peter Dutton about this and there are no issues here that trouble me at all. I mean there’s no suggestion that Peter, in any way, shape or form, has sought or been provided with any benefit here.

“The individual we’re talking about had his visa cancelled while he was out of the country, by Peter Dutton’s department. So if the object was foreign interference, well, the exact opposite is what has occurred.”

But the issue is not whether Dutton himself got a benefit.

The issues are that Huang’s family received favourable treatment via the minister’s office, and that Huang, in hiring Santoro, “bought” himself valuable access to a minister. That Huang came to grief later is not the point.

“The suggestion that somehow I’ve provided anything to this individual is just a nonsense,” Dutton says. He’d met with him “because he was a significant leader within the Chinese community”.

Duton underestimates himself. He notes that Huang “was interested obviously in politics and other issues of the day”. Of course he was – and access to a minister over a relaxed and tasty Chinese meal yields information and insights.

Malcolm Turnbull had emerged early on Tuesday declaring Dutton had “a lot to explain” and setting up the challenge for Morrison. “Scott Morrison is the Prime Minister and you can’t wave this off and say it is all part of gossip and the bubble.

“This is the national security of Australia. Remember the furore that arose against Sam Dastyari?

“All the same issues have arisen again and this has to be addressed at the highest level of security, priority, urgency by the Prime Minister,” Turnbull said.

“The buck stops with him. I know what it is like to be Prime Minister and, ultimately, you are responsible. So Scott Morrison has to deal with this Peter Dutton issue”.

Predictably, Turnbull didn’t influence Morrison but he did ensure a bad day became even worse for the government.

Turnbull is not an objective voice when it comes to Dutton, who instigated the events that ended in the political demise of the former PM.

But Turnbull’s credentials on combatting foreign interference are beyond question. His government introduced the legislation to counter what has become a very serious problem.

On Monday Duncan Lewis, head of ASIO, told a Senate estimates hearing “the threat from foreign interference and foreign espionage in Australia is running at […] an unprecedented level.”

No doubt if he knew then what he learned later, Dutton would not have given Huang the benefits of valuable face time.

But by 2016 politicians, and especially a minister, should have been alert to foreign interference.

In 2015 Lewis briefed the top officials of the main parties about the risks from foreign donations, and reportedly named donors ASIO believed were acting on the Chinese government’s behalf.

Did Dutton make any effort to check Huang out with ASIO before agreeing to lunch?

Most pertinently, the lunch highlights the insidious power of the lobbying industry in today’s Canberra.

Four Corners had Santoro on tape saying (to unidentified people, not Huang): “One of my best friends is Peter Dutton. He is the most honest politician that I have ever come across, but he tries to be helpful.[…] I can go to somebody in the minister’s office and say ‘can you have a close look at this’”.

According to Four Corners, Santoro charges at least $20,000 for access to Dutton’s office.

Dutton says: “There are lobbyists who are registered on both sides of parliament, people that operate as lobbyists. Their transactions and how they conduct their business is an issue for them”.

Actually, how they conduct themselves and how ministers respond are matters for the democratic system.

That you can write Santoro a cheque and expect to be fast-tracked to the minister’s office (whether that ends in a successful outcome or not) isn’t the way the system should desirably work.

We do have a federal register of lobbyists. But we don’t have enough information about their operations – until they find themselves in the spotlight.

Journalist Primrose Riordan tweeted on Tuesday that Santoro had “just updated his listing on the foreign influence register to include a heap of Chinese companies”.

At the very least, the Dutton affair suggests we need a lot more transparency about what in recent years has become a sunrise industry of politics, and a lucrative occupation for spent politicians.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.

Grattan on Friday: The Coalition is trapped in its coal minefield


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Sydney shock jock Ray Hadley was apoplectic. Home Affairs Minister
Peter Dutton, one of Hadley’s favourites, who has a regular spot on his 2GB program, had just committed blasphemy.

Dutton said he didn’t believe in the government building a new
coal-fired power station. Hadley couldn’t credit what he was hearing. “You’re toeing the [Morrison] company line”, he said accusingly.

It’s another story with Dutton’s cabinet colleague and fellow
Queenslander, Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who is part of the
Queensland Nationals’ push for support for a new power station in that state.

“Studies have come back always saying that a HELE [high-efficiency, low-emissions] or a new coal-fired power station would make a lot of sense in North Queensland,” Canavan said this week.

The two ministers’ divergent views are not surprising on the basis of where they come from. In Brisbane voters tend to share similar opinions on climate change and coal to those in the southern capitals – it’s the regions where support for coal is stronger.

What’s surprising is how the rifts at the government’s highest levels are being exposed. In these desperate days, it is every minister, every government backbencher, and each part, or sub-part, of the Coalition for themselves.

Never mind cabinet solidarity, or Coalition unity.

The most spectacular outbreak came this week from Barnaby Joyce,
declaring himself the “elected deputy prime minister” and pressing the government for a strongly pro-coal stand.

It was a slap at besieged Nationals leader Michael McCormack, after rumourmongering that McCormack might be replaced even before the election. Predictably, the NSW Nationals, fighting a difficult state election, were furious.

The Joyce outbreak was further evidence that the federal Nationals are a mess, over leadership and electorally. They have a party room of 22 – there are fears they could lose up to four House of Representatives seats as well as going down two in the Senate.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Coal turns lumpy for Scott Morrison and the Nationals


(However it’s not all gloom in the Nationals – at the election they will gain three new women, two in the Senate – Susan McDonald from Queensland and Sam McMahon from the Northern Territory – and Anne Webster in the Victorian seat of Mallee. Whatever happens to the party’s numbers overall, the women will go from two to four or five, depending on the fate of Michelle Landry, who holds the marginal seat of Capricornia. The Nationals’ NSW Senate candidate is also a woman but is unlikely to be elected.)

By mid week Joyce was back in his box, stressing that McCormack would take the party to the election. But he was still in the coal advocacy vanguard.

The coal debate and the assertiveness of the Queensland Nationals
smoked out a clutch of Liberal moderates, who question spending
government money on coal projects (although there is some confusion between building power stations and underwriting ventures).




Read more:
Queensland Nationals Barry O’Sullivan challenges Morrison over coal


The government’s policy is for underwriting “firm power” projects, on a technology-neutral basis, if they stack up commercially.

The marauding Nationals were derisive of moderate Liberals trying to protect their seats. “Trendy inner-city Liberals who want to oppose coal and the jobs it creates should consider joining the Greens,” Queensland National George Christensen said tartly on Facebook.

It was a rare appearance by the moderates, who have made a poor
showing over the last few years, True, some were crucial in achieving the same-sex marriage reform. But in general they’ve failed to push back against the right’s tightening ideological grip on the Liberal party, and the government has suffered as a result.

The week highlighted, yet again, that instead of a credible energy
policy, the government has only confusion and black holes.

With his recent announcements, Morrison has been trying to show he’s heard the electorate on climate change. But actually, these were mostly extensions of what had been done or proposed.

The Abbott government’s emissions reduction fund (renamed) is getting an injection, given it would soon be close to exhausted. And the Snowy pumped hydro scheme, announced by Malcolm Turnbull, has received the go-ahead. Didn’t we expect that? There was also modest support for a new inter-connector to transmit Tasmanian hydro power to Victoria.

The government can’t get its “big stick” legislation – aimed at
recalcitrant power companies – through parliament. It will take it to the election. But who knows what its future would be in the unlikely event of a re-elected Coalition government? It would face Senate hurdles and anyway “free market” Liberals don’t like it.

And then we come to the underwriting initiative. The government has 66 submissions seeking support, 10 of which have “identified coal as a source of generation”.

Sources say it is hoped to announce backing for some projects before the election. But this will be fraught, internally and externally, for the government.

One source hinted one project might involve coal. Even if this is
true, it won’t satisfy the Coalition’s coal spruikers, deeply unhappy that Morrison has flagged there won’t be support for a Queensland coal-fired power station. (The Queenslanders liken Morrison’s cooling on coal to Kevin Rudd’s 2010 back off from his emissions trading scheme.)

On the other hand, underwriting of any coal project would alarm
Liberals in the so-called “leafy-suburbs” electorates.

Given the proximity to the election, the government could do little more than give promises to particular projects. There is also the risk of blow back from those whose bids are unsuccessful.

There would be no obligation on a Labor government to honour any
commitments, because formal agreements would not have been finalised.

Meanwhile the government is trying to promote a scare against Labor’s climate policy, still to be fully outlined, which includes reducing emissions by an ambitious 45% by 2030 (compared with the government’s pledge of 26-28%).

But unlike, for example, the scare over the ALP’s franking credits
policy (dubbed by the government a “retirement tax”), this scare is much harder to run, except in specific regional areas.

The zeitgeist is in Labor’s favour on the climate issue, not least
after sweltering summer days and bushfires.

The public have a great deal of faith in renewables – in focus groups people don’t just like them, they romanticise them.

It seems the government can’t take a trick on climate and energy
policy – even the school children are reminding it of that.




Read more:
Students striking for climate action are showing the exact skills employers look for


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.