Modern Australian

Shorten's victory will bring dangerous counter strikes from a desperate government

  • Written by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, 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 'medivac' 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.

Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Read more http://theconversation.com/view-from-the-hill-shortens-victory-will-bring-dangerous-counter-strikes-from-a-desperate-government-111666

NEWS

The campaign with built-in R&R for voters

Politically speaking, the Easter break is a blessing for a jaded electorate, at least a partial rest for voters’ eyes and ears in a campaign that’s started as an impossibly...

the 'ball-tampering' budget trick they don't want you to know about

Just not cricket: Politicians make promises but obfuscate how those promises will be paid for.ShutterstockThe first week of the federal election campaign has been dominated by heated disputes about the...

three things to consider if you're thinking about homeschooling your child

Homeschooling allows more creativity in the way the curriculum is delivered.Max Goncharov/UnsplashThis is the last article in our series on homeschooling in Australia. The series answers common questions including why...

Adani, economics and personality politics

The Adani coal mine has become a key issue for voters.Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-NDOur “state of the states” series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting...

Antibiotic shortages are putting Aboriginal kids at risk

At any time, almost one in two Aboriginal children living in remote areas will have a school sore. That means right now, there are an estimated 15,000 children needing treatment.School...

What and where is heaven? The answers are at the heart of the Easter story

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-NDThis is the second in a two-part series on heaven and hell by Bible scholar Robyn Whitaker. You can read her piece on hell here.My pious...

What is hell, exactly? We might joke it's other people, but the Bible has a more complicated answer

Hell is a complicated idea- and most Christians do not believe it has anything to do with fire and brimstone.Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-NDThis is the first in a two-part...

In Abdul-Rahman Abdullah's Pretty Beach, a fever of stingrays becomes a meditation on suffering

Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Pretty Beach, 2019, installation view, The National 2019: New Australian Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, painted wood, silver plate ball chain, crystals, audio, image courtesy the...

Going to the beach this Easter? Here are four ways we're not being properly protected from jellyfish

Thousands of Queensland beachgoers have been stung by bluebottle jellyfish in recent monthsShutterstockThe Easter long weekend marks the last opportunity this year for many Australians to go to the beach...

a tale of amazing people, amazing creatures and rising seas

We have so much more to learn about Australia.Shutterstock/Lev SavitskiyThe Australian continent has a remarkable history — a story of isolation, desiccation and resilience on an ark at the edge...

how we value the fruits of our labour over instant gratification

The IKEA effect says 'that labour alone can be sufficient to induce greater liking for the fruits of one’s labour'.ShutterstockThere are some anecdotes just so good that almost every story...

Climate change is hitting hard across New Zealand, official report finds

Finance minister Grant Robertson (left) and climate minister James Shaw address school children during a climate protest, promising that New Zealand will introduce zero carbon legislation this year. AAP/Boris Jancic...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

Downsizing: What Is Too Small?5 unique ways to extract toxins from your bodyThe Art Of Bell-RingingModern Snapback Hats trending in Australia6 Mistakes to Avoid When Moving Overseas5 Tips Designed to Help Accentuate Your Hourglass FigureRoyal Edinburgh Military TattooThe inaugural Bondi Ocean Lovers FestivalHow to Plan a Remodeling at Home: Tips and TricksAchieving Facial Symmetry with RhinoplastyHow to Choose the Best Colors for Your BedroomFind Here the 3 Best Online Pokies in AustraliaHair Loss and Transplant SolutionsHere's All You Need For An Exuberant Cocktail PartyHow to Find Your Signature Style