Monday, February 4, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Morrison’s kind-of backdown
Cruel hairsplitting should be beneath our politicians

Independent MP Cathy McGowan Source

It feels like an endgame: with an election three months away, how much more political gain can be wrung out of the fate of a thousand poor individuals stranded on Nauru and Manus Island? Crab walking back to the middle ground, the Morrison government wants to placate those motivated by compassion for those remaining asylum seekers, while preserving the ability to mount a scare campaign against Labor for undermining the offshore detention regime and restarting the boats.

The government’s proposed Medical Transfer Clinical Assurance Panel is the product of a heartless, knife-edge political calculation, designed to do just enough to avoid defeat on the floor of the parliament when sittings resume next week, yet to leave scope for a bit of “soft on boats” rhetoric during the ensuing election. All eyes are on retiring independent member for Indi Cathy McGowan, who holds the balance of power on this issue, and who has today [$] left the door open to supporting the government’s proposal. Combined with yesterday’s headlines blaring “Kids off Nauru” (never mind the details), it may be the government has done just enough.

As a minority government, the Coalition cannot afford a defeat on a key piece of legislation such as independent member for Wentworth Dr Kerryn Phelps’s bill to allow medical evacuation of refugees if approved by two doctors. Labor could use defeat as a vote of no confidence, a pretext to attempt to force a snap election. The numbers are finely balanced, and depend partly on whether the necessary procedural motions to bring on the Phelps bill require an absolute majority – 76 out of 150 seats in the lower house – or a simple majority. A Crikey analysis today [$] concludes that “even with the whole crossbench and Labor on board, Phelps needs the support of at least one government MP to get her legislation through the lower house”. The suggestion is that moderates Craig Laundy or Russell Broadbent may cross the floor.

We know what refugee advocates think: the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre tweeted that the prime minister’s proposed panel “has no limit on time and still allows Peter Dutton MP to keep blocking urgent medical treatment”. The ASRC urged McGowan to “stay strong” and back Dr Phelps’s bill. Dr Phelps told RN Breakfast this morning the proposed panel was not good enough: “We still have bureaucrats making the medical decisions and then being reviewed by a medical panel.” Greens spokesperson Nick McKim described the panel as a “thought bubble” that would “leave the minister with the final say on whether people receive the medical treatment they need … There are people in PNG and Nauru, people in dire need of medical treatment in Australia, who are currently being denied that support by the government, and the PM’s proposal will do nothing to change that unacceptable situation.”

It is former PM Tony Abbott, who can be relied on to be blunt, who gave away the government’s thinking on 2GB radio: “Now I have a lot of respect for the medical profession but we all know that doctors always err on the side of compassion. Doctors are always, almost inevitably, going to say it would be better to treat someone in Australia than in PNG or on Nauru. It will be impossible to maintain offshore processing of illegal arrivals by boat if we say that doctors will have control of the whole thing.”

Under Shorten Labor the boats would restart “as surely as night follows day”, Abbott warned. Labor’s immigration spokesperson Shayne Neumann pointed out the panel was a backflip by the prime minister, who has previously claimed that compassionate medical transfers would be the end of offshore detention. Neumann, however, did not rule out supporting the panel. As a country, we are splitting hairs of cruelty ever more finely.


“Ironically, the day that Malcolm Turnbull’s hand was forced and he had to call a royal commission … Scott Morrison, who was treasurer at the time, piped up and said, ‘Unlike what some people in this building think this is not going to be capitalism on trial.’ … I’m sorry, prime minister, that’s exactly what it’s turned out to be. This has exposed the worst excesses of our capitalist system, and what we’ve seen has been appalling.” rn breakfast

Greens Treasury spokesperson Peter Whish-Wilson, who first called for a banking royal commission in 2014, on RN Breakfast this morning ahead of the release of the banking royal commission report this afternoon.


“Whilst I think there has been some inexcusable pieces of behaviour by banks we don’t want to create a situation where banks can’t take a risk in lending to people and can’t recover against the collateral when that is warranted.”the sydney morning herald

Former Reserve Bank board member, Woolworths CEO and Fairfax Media chair Roger Corbett telling Nine newspapers he is worried about the impact of the royal commission on the banking industry.

The Number

The most recent Productivity Commission figures for total annual expenditure by all governments on Aboriginal health and welfare, including a $27 billion share of non-Indigenous spending, which is much less than the anecdotal $50 billion figure used by former editor-in-chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell in his column today. READ on [$]

The Policy

“It’s time to face the fact that exporting water in the form of cotton is incompatible with saving the Murray-Darling system, a vital part of Australia’s environment that is essential for our future water and food security. Exporting cotton is not in the national interest.” the centre alliance’s rex patrick proposes legislation to ban cotton exports

The list

“The crisis, now, is very much with us. The king is mad. Even so, for American cinema, this has resulted less in the passionate intensity for which one might have hoped ... Instead we have films like Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, a study of one badly flawed man and the era he helped usher in, and a tea so weak it tastes of barely anything at all.” the monthly


“If you take half the water out of a river, it will affect the river. This is not rocket science; it is a statement of the bleeding obvious. To pretend that you can leach out the headwaters of the Murray-Darling Basin for years and go on with business as usual is not merely absurd, it borders on insanity.” The monthly


“In 2012, al-Araibi was arrested, tortured and detained – allegedly for helping firebomb a police station, although footage would later emerge of him playing club football many miles away at the time of the incident.” the saturday paper

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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