The Politics    Thursday, December 6, 2018

A game of chicken

By Paddy Manning


Parliament ends 2018 with a cry for help

Prime Minister Scott Morrison turned the national security rhetoric up to 11 today. Slamming Labor for undermining the country’s “hard-won” border protection laws, Morrison called Opposition Leader Bill Shorten a “clear and present threat to Australia’s safety”. He justified this by pointing to minor delays caused by Labor in passing the government’s encryption-cracking laws, and a threatened vote against the government in the lower house over an amendment to allow medical evacuation of asylum seekers stranded on Manus and Nauru. If that’s how hard Morrison will go when Labor is rolling over, as it is on encryption, how over the top will he get as the election approaches? In Question Time this afternoon, Labor’s Tony Burke dubbed it “the most hysterical press conference in Australian history”.

As The Guardian’s political editor Katharine Murphy wrote this afternoon, a game of chicken is going on today – running down the clock as the government tries to rush encryption through the lower house while stalling on medical evacuations.

Morrison’s amped-up performance is a clear sign that when the 2019 poll comes around, the Coalition is hoping for a repeat of John Howard’s upset dark victory in 2001 – indeed, the joint party room was reminded of that election this week, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg reading out a string of quotes from media commentators that year, writing off the government. That was just before the party room broke into dance, according to Seven’s Mark Riley, chanting: “If you act enthusiastic you are enthusiastic.”

The Morrison government is so fragile that it is painful to watch. Former PM Julia Gillard governed for almost three years with 72 votes, and passed a raft of legislation. This government may not be able to survive the 10 sitting days before the election. Fairfax Media’s David Crowe reported this morning that Labor, the Greens and Senate crossbenchers Tim Storer, Derryn Hinch, Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff formed an alliance to amend a government migration bill in the Senate today, to force the government to evacuate asylum seekers to Australia on medical grounds if supported by two doctors, and most likely had the numbers to pass the same amended legislation in the lower house. The AFR’s Phillip Coorey tweeted that “the last time a govt lost a vote on legislation on the floor of the HoR was in 1929 when the Maritime Industries Bill was amended by 35 votes to 34. PM Stanley Bruce called an election the next day – and lost.” Seven’s Mark Riley tweeted: “Government planning to time Senate message on refugee bill to ensure House can’t vote before rising. Desperate attempt to avoid once in a 100-year loss on floor of House …” and “BREAKING: Frantic series of phone calls/messages between Cabinet ministers last night and this morning. Fear in ministerial wing that if independents succeed, government is cooked.”

It should not be remarkable for the federal government to get a bill through the lower house, but today it is, and a deal with the crossbench to pass “big stick” energy laws gets chalked up as a much-needed win. It should not be remarkable for the federal government to avoid a once-in-a-century legislative defeat on the floor of the house, but today it is, and prime minister Scott Morrison lives to fight another day.

since this morning

The Australian reports [$] that Dublin-born Michael O’Brien has been charged with leading the Liberal Party in Victoria after the November 24 election rout.

Former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill has quit [$] politics, but pumped up renewable energy on his way out.

in case you missed it

An ABC investigation reveals that former federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg rejected advice from his own department that a $1.4 billion development on protected wetlands being proposed by a major Liberal Party donor was “clearly unacceptable”.

Labor MP Emma Husar is considering court action against her party as she fights to keep her Western Sydney seat, dismissing NSW Labor general secretary Kaila Murnain’s view that she is no longer an ALP-endorsed candidate for next year’s election, according [$] to The Australian.

The AFR reports [$] that the likely May timing of the next federal election means investors could have a year longer than anticipated before Labor’s proposed cuts to negative gearing and capital gains tax breaks can start.

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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.

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