Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Medical evacuation bill down to the wire
Another political blamefest will not be an acceptable outcome

AAP Image / Mick Tsikas

The fate of a thousand people stranded for years on Manus Island and Nauru, some in desperate need of medical attention, as is acknowledged by all sides, ought not be subject to such desperate, hard-edged partisan politics. Mercifully, a delayed Question Time this afternoon avoided the topic altogether, but when the medical evacuations legislation comes up for a vote later this afternoon, the consequences of political failure could be terrible.

Such a failure seemed possible earlier today, when the Greens rejected [$] Labor’s amendments to the Kerryn Phelps–sponsored bill, describing it as “worse than doing nothing”. If the Phelps bill fails despite the good intentions of all who contributed to it, the Coalition will avoid a historic defeat on substantial legislation on the floor of the House. Labor will not have to worry about being attacked from now until the election for undermining offshore processing and restarting the boats. At the time of writing, however, the Greens, Labor and the crossbench were talking again.

Dr Phelps herself flagged her willingness to negotiate amendments in good faith today, and was a beacon of clarity this morning: “We cannot keep going the way we have been going, where the bureaucrats and the minister just block medical transfers by running them through the courts, by taking them to the federal court, only to find those ministerial decisions overturned and the doctors’ decisions upheld. We need to find the right balance and the right balance is to have medical practitioners making decisions about the medical transfers because they’re saying that they cannot cope on Manus Island and Nauru with particular cases.”

The “deal breaker” according to Greens leader Richard Di Natale, himself a doctor, was the watering down of a provision that imposed a 24-hour time limit on the home affairs minister to reject a recommended transfer. Di Natale attacked Labor: “Under a bit of pressure from Scott Morrison and the right-wing media, they’ve gone to water.” Talks now are back on, according to The Guardian’s political editor, Katharine Murphy, who has tweeted: “[T]his medical evacuations bill more likely to pass than not. Timeframe sorted. Some minor fine tuning underway on ministerial discretion”.

As The Saturday Paper’s Mike Seccombe reported in detail last weekend, the government does not have clean hands when it comes to medical transfers – it has fought them bitterly, repeatedly, in court. ASIO’s formerly classified briefing document on the matter itself notes that medical evacuations are not a sufficiently certain pathway for asylum seekers to Australia to give people smugglers any “product” to sell. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s bluster yesterday should be called for the bluff it is.

On Sky News in recent days, Di Natale called on Labor to “grow a spine”. Labor frontbencher Terri Butler has warned [$] of branch revolt if her party walked away from the bill. Labor is keen to not appear weak, and in an exclusive this morning The Guardian reported that Labor would indeed part ways with the government on national security, releasing legal advice that a government bill to lower the bar for stripping terrorists of Australian citizenship is unconstitutional.

Straight after Question Time, speaker Tony Smith tabled a legal opinion from the solicitor-general – dated February 7 – that the bill passed last year in the Senate is unconstitutional, on the grounds that it involves spending money, and such bills need to originate in the House. According to Sky News anchor David Speers this afternoon, the tabled advice could set up a court challenge, or a possible veto at the point of royal assent. The government is fighting, tooth and nail, to preserve the status quo

It will not be good enough to have another blamefest, in which all sides of politics shout at one other, while the burden falls on a thousand people stranded for more than five years on Manus Island and Nauru, now, by all reports, at breaking point.


“The cowardice of major parties is already being exposed by the aged care royal commission. As the first witness hearings began yesterday, we heard again of the 20 reviews and inquiries in the past decade where crucial recommendations about funding were ignored.” THE AUSTRALIAN [$]

Rick Morton, writing in The Australian, on the political cowardice over funding decisions affecting the aged-care sector in the past decade.


“Any Party to a litigation may apply to a judicial officer to recuse themselves from a particular matter on grounds of actual or apprehended bias. As this case may be subject to an appeal any further comment from me would be inappropriate.”THE DAILY TELEGRAPH [$]

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman in comments to The Daily Telegraph about the recent ruling against a new coal mine due to factors including climate change by Land and Environment Court Chief Justice Brian Preston.

The Number

The amount that may not be spent on water infrastructure in Bob Katter’s Queensland electorate if he supports Labor to force a recall of parliament to deal with recommendations from the banking royal commission, according to the AFR. READ ON [$]

The Policy

“Applications have not been processed in a time-efficient manner. Processing times have increased and long delays are evident between applications being lodged and decisions being taken on whether or not to confer citizenship. Significant periods of inactivity are evident for both complex and non-complex applications accepted by the department for processing.” AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE

The list

“It’s that figure-eight logic – both loopy in concept and design – that makes Russian Doll, a screwball existential comedy that is the first must-see Netflix series of 2019, such an inventive delight. The show is committed to its metaphysical game structure, where Nadia keeps finding herself back at the start of level one, but it refuses to make the quest for answers into a desperate thriller or a science-fiction investigation.” the monthly


“As banking insiders describe it, the share price rises reflected the industry’s response to Hayne’s decision not to tear them apart – ‘phew’. Some commentators, the federal Labor opposition and the Greens are curious about a $500 million splurge on bank shares observed on the Australian Stock Exchange about 11am on Monday, well before the release of Hayne’s report.” the SATURDAY PAPER


“He was pointing at a piece of paper. I leaned over his shoulder to look, but it was a ruse: the judge’s other associate raised a camera and snapped our photo. ‘One for the album,’ said the judge. ‘Not like the photo of me they always run in The Australian. I mean, I know I’m no box of chocolates to look at, but the one they run is really terrible.’” the MONTHLY

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


The Monthly Today

Adani repeater

Another deadline, another argument

Albo set to lead ALP

Can a left-winger take the party to the right?

Is the war over?

The Liberal Party may finally pull itself together on climate

Fair gone

The Coalition’s aspirational pitch worked a treat

From the front page

Adani repeater

Another deadline, another argument

Photo of Leonard French underneath his stained glass ceiling at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Leonard French’s Balzacian life

Reg MacDonald’s biography may return this Australian artist to the national imagination

Book cover of Choice Words

The desperate, secretive drama: ‘Choice Words’ edited by Louise Swinn

Personal stories consider questions of choice, legality and stigma surrounding abortion

Fair gone

The Coalition’s aspirational pitch worked a treat