Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Morrison sounds the sirens
Will fear turn parliamentary defeat into electoral victory?


Prime Minister Scott Morrison didn’t need much excuse to unleash the ugly politics of Operation Sovereign Borders. Today’s historic parliamentary defeat, with the Senate voting 36–34 to make the medical evacuation bill law, is an embarrassment to the PM, and has stung him into action. Staring straight down the barrel of the cameras at a press conference in the prime ministerial courtyard, Morrison positioned himself as the lone defender of Australia’s borders, fighting now with a Labor chink in his armour: “I’m standing between people smugglers and bringing a boat to Australia.” Addressing himself directly to people smugglers, he said, “Last time I did that, you didn’t get here.”

Morrison pointedly refused to concede that the new laws facilitating medical transfers would not apply to any new arrival – which gives the people smugglers nothing to sell – pretending it was a nuance of the Canberra bubble. In a sign of how nasty this election could get, Morrison wholeheartedly endorsed a scurrilous tweet by the former PM Tony Abbott yesterday: “Under Labor, it’s get on a boat, get to Nauru, get sick and get to Australia.” Entirely possible, Morrison said.

As The Australian’s Dennis Shanahan writes [$], Morrison is “wasting no time with looking in the gift horse’s mouth” and will wring every bit of political advantage he can. Shanahan raises the spectre of the 2001 election, and “Tampa 2”. An equally salient example may be 2016, when the Coalition tried to run a scare campaign against Labor and Bill Shorten on refugees, but found the electorate lost interest once the boats stopped. If former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had qualms unleashing the ugly right, however, Scott Morrison has none.

Siren emojis book-ended the broadcast email from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton last night, subject line: “BREAKING: Labor has voted to weaken our borders”. Today, Dutton is warning that Labor has given the “green light to people smugglers”. It is misleading on many levels. Firstly, because the boats never stopped. And, as pointed out ad nauseam, the new medical transfer provisions are not prospective, which was the key concession to the government by Labor and the Greens that convinced swing vote Senator Derryn Hinch to back the bill. As Hinch told the Senate: “What really swayed me was the amendment that I’m surprised the Greens agreed to, that is the one that will apply only to people who are currently on Nauru or on Manus … It’s not an encouragement, I believe, to people smugglers, who are despicable and should be despised, because it will only apply to people who are there. And people are transferred off Manus and brought back to Australia, according to the home affairs department – they assured me today they will remain in detention in some manner or form. So they will not be coming here and wandering around the streets of Australia.”

The real green light here is to the far right. In the Senate today, for example, independent Fraser Anning referred to “chardonnay socialists” and “left-wing doctors” virtue-signalling their compassion for people who – in his words – were not asylum seekers but “welfare seekers”. Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph ran a disgracefully Islamophobic cartoon, prompting former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane to tweet: “This … is what fear mongering looks like. A reminder there are media outlets that perpetuate hateful stereotypes in our society.”

The Coalition, One Nation, Anning and the rest, buttressed by sections of the media, will milk border protection for all it’s worth. That may not be much. As News Corp columnist Malcolm Farr writes today: “The people smuggler pitch is as imaginary as the Prime Minister’s forecast of new flotillas of asylum seekers. It simply doesn’t exist.” Reopening Christmas Island at huge cost to deal with an influx of sick people from Manus Island and Nauru smacks of a political stunt. Greens leader Richard Di Natale described it as “a political tactic to continue to sow the seeds of fear and division within the community”, and Labor’s Brendan O’Connor accused the PM of “advertising to people smugglers that business is open”.

Labor and the crossbench have made it clear that the passage of the medical evacuation bill will not be the pretext for a vote of no-confidence in the government. Labor’s bid to bring back parliament to handle legislation to deal with the banking royal commission, dependent on the unpredictable Bob Katter, is set to fail given that Andrew Wilkie has flagged [$] he will not support it. The minority Morrison government will fight on to the budget, now like a wounded bull.


“‘Treatment of asylum seekers’ has never made the top ten list of issues voters identify as most important – that list is always dominated by health, the economy and jobs, and education. The only time it becomes an issue for voters is when it is perceived that our borders are being threatened.” CRIKEY [$]

Bernard Keane argues that the issue of asylum seekers is “near irrelevant” to most voters.


“The Financial Review agrees with Mr Rudd that climate change poses serious risks that would be best tackled by putting an economy-wide price on carbon that would reduce emissions at lowest cost. But an economy that has relied on cheap fossil fuels as a competitive advantage should not get too far ahead of its competitor economies, which Mr Rudd’s successor never grasped.”THE AUSTRALIAN FINANCIAL REVIEW [$]

The AFR defends itself against Kevin Rudd’s suggestion it is far right, including on climate change.

The Number

The number of times Labor senators voted for a medical evacuations bill that was prospective, unlike the bill passed today, according to the government. READ ON

The Policy

“A Shorten Labor government will establish a permanent Australian Health Reform Commission. This Commission will be an independent, legislated body – comparable to the Productivity Commission – charged with developing and overseeing a long-term health reform agenda that transcends our election cycles … It will be a body explicitly charged with reducing health inequality and improving the universality of our health system.” shadow health minister catherine king

The list

“‘It’s going to be a day of miracles here in Jackson, Mississippi,’ an exuberant Australian voice whoops into the microphone. ‘We came here to do business. This is not your grandmother’s church conference – we’re gonna kick some arse today!’ This rockstar cry is emanating from Christine Caine, a diminutive 52-year-old star of America’s evangelical circuit.” the MONTHLY


“Some have argued this shift to the right is a result of Fairfax’s merger with Nine, a deal that was completed in December last year. But the change in political culture at Fairfax began long before the television network set its sights on establishing a newspaper presence, and my story is just a small example of it.” the SATURDAY PAPER


“For far too long the Australian people have been offered a false binary choice: between the suffering of those on Manus and Nauru, and thousands of deaths at sea. The answer should be obvious: we should accept neither.” 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 the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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