Thursday, February 14, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Shorten stands up
The medivac bill was just the beginning

AAP Image / Lukas Coch

The government is quite right that the public is now getting a clear line of sight on Opposition leader Bill Shorten’s character, but it is quite wrong to suppose that the public won’t like what they are seeing. It took a while, and a lot of pressure from the Greens and the crossbench, but Labor and Shorten stood up this week, daring to part ways with the government on border protection. The significance of passing the medical evacuations bill is enormous. For almost a decade – at least since deposed prime minister Kevin Rudd explained in 2010 that he had been knifed in part because he refused to lurch to the right on asylum seekers – Labor has been running from a fight with the Coalition on immigration and national security. Now Shorten has stopped, turned around, squared up to his opponent, hit back, and done some damage.

Today Shorten told reporters that he did not fear a reprise of the Tampa election of 2001: “In 2019, this is a government who’s run out of offering Australians hope. They just want to rule by fear and by slogans. They should be ashamed of themselves for luring people to Australia by somehow implying that this government hasn’t got strong borders.”

The media may not go along with the fear campaign. Today, Sky News host Kieran Gilbert pressed Attorney-General Christian Porter on the government’s suggestion that there are many hardened criminals on Manus Island and Nauru. In particular, he asked Porter if it would be more accurate for the government to refer to “alleged” criminals, if they have not been found guilty. “You’re basically circumventing any legal process,” Gilbert noted. Porter responded: “In instances where someone has been convicted of a serious offence such as murder or rape but has not yet been sentenced – and there is very often a separation in time between conviction and sentencing – that person isn’t alleged to have committed the offence; they have committed the offence. But the Labor legislation that was rammed through under a gag so that we couldn’t ventilate these issues relies on there being a final sentence.” Gilbert asked Porter if the government had any advice that suggested that any of those on Manus or Nauru were in that circumstance, adding that it seemed “like a very esoteric argument”.

Porter responded: “What we do know is that there are 300 people who, it appears, have already got or are close to getting certification from the two doctors. Now, we are in a race against time to try and go through each of those 300 …” Gilbert pressed again, asking the attorney-general, “Surely you have some understanding on these islands already?” Porter said that there was “reporting of a potential transferee on Manus Island charged with four counts of sexual penetration of a minor under the PNG Summary Offences and Crimes Against Children Act.”

It beggars belief. As Malcolm Turnbull told US President Donald Trump: after all these years in detention, “we know everything about these people”.

The medivac bill is just the start. With the government losing control of the parliament, Labor is today pressing its advantage: working with the crossbench on necessary amendments to the encryption-cracking legislation; issuing a minority report opposing the government’s citizenship-stripping bill; and supporting a Greens motion seeking a royal commission on disability abuse. The government is on the back foot, dumping its controversial “big stick” legislation to give the ACCC power to divest assets and break up energy companies for fear of another parliamentary defeat.

The Coalition appears not to have learnt the lesson of recent losses in Wentworth and Victoria, nor Julia Banks’s defection, nor the challenges emerging in heartland seats. By sounding the alarm unnecessarily about border protection, they are campaigning for their base, no longer for the centre.

Labor has already showed policy courage heading into this election, not just on franking credits and negative gearing, but on issues like energy and climate, penalty rates and workplace laws, and on an Indigenous voice to parliament, which Shorten recommitted to put to the people in his first term as part of his response to today’s Closing the Gap report. Now Labor is showing that it is up for a fight, not just a debate.


“If we say that we want partnership with our First Australians, then we don’t get to pick and choose our partner’s values or priorities. For more than a decade now, prime ministers and Opposition leaders of both the main parties have stood in this place and said we want to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in partnership. But you don’t get to tell your partner what to think. It is that spirit of partnership which we saw at Uluru in 2017 … And our partners said to us, ‘We seek a Voice enshrined in the Constitution.’” OPPOSITION LEADER BILL SHORTEN

Bill Shorten responds to the 11th Closing the Gap report in parliament.


“Born out of the National Apology, Closing the Gap was recognition that words without deeds are fruitless. The process that began in 2008 was born of good heart … [but] It was set up to fail. And has, on its own tests. And today I am calling that out. This was not a true partnership – not with the states and territories, or with Indigenous peoples themselves.”PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON

The prime minister dishes it out to his predecessors in his response to the Closing the Gap report.

The Number

The value of the Manus Island security contract awarded in a closed-tender process to Paladin, which Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says he had “no sight” of. READ ON [$]

The Policy

“There are currently seven Closing the Gap targets. Two targets, early childhood education and Year 12 attainment, are on track to be met.” CLOSING THE GAP REPORT 2019

The list

“As a satire swinging at middle-class obliviousness, it is loaded with comic richness. So why does Camping, co-created with Dunham’s long-term (and now former) collaborator Jenni Konner, feel so austere and punishing?” the MONTHLY


“Before Easter, my partner, Paul, and I will be driving from Hobart to the Galilee Basin, site of the proposed Carmichael mine. Along the way we will be joining more than 1000 fellow Australians who have already signed up for the Adani convoy. It is a community commitment – an act of defiance – for the future of our planet.” the SATURDAY PAPER


“No sooner had the Sexyland staff packed away the Santa lingerie with the faux-fur trim than it was time to haul out the merchandise for the adult supermarket’s busiest season, Valentine’s Day: hot-pink vibrators, heart-shaped panties, long-stemmed roses affixed to tubs of chocolate body paint. At the entrance to all nine stores, giant inflatable teddies hold hearts emblazoned with the words ‘I Love You’.” 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?


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