The Politics    Monday, February 18, 2019

Back on the border-line

By Paddy Manning

Back on the border-line

Immigration Minister David Coleman on Sky News. Source

The Coalition is a little too glad to be talking about border protection

It’s not just today’s Ipsos poll, published in the Nine newspapers, showing a shift back to the Coalition. There is no doubt that the ground has moved seismically since the medical evacuations bill passed last week, opening up a split between the Opposition and the government on border protection, which is the Coalition’s preferred political territory. That point of difference will be argued strenuously all the way to the election. Is the message that clear, though?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to hang tough on people smugglers, while his wife Jenny softens his image, confirming in her first extended interview that he wept on his knees about the detention of asylum seekers. Undercutting the tough-guy stance is Morrison’s slipping grip on the legislature, triggering a series of policy backflips today – including on a disability abuse royal commission, now likely to occur. Towards the end of Question Time this afternoon, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten asked the PM to confirm he would “do anything to cling to power”. Morrison responded contemptuously: “What I can confirm is that the leader of the Labor Party can’t get his head out of the Canberra bubble.” So, everything that happens in federal parliament can now be dismissed. Don’t you worry about that.

Former editor-in-chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell writes [$] that there is no issue like border protection to highlight the left–right polarisation of the media. “Wise political heads were astounded that after 5½ years of rigid discipline, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was prepared to play on the Coalition’s turf,” Mitchell writes. He also endorses the observation that around the world social democrat governments are being destroyed by cross-border flows of asylum seekers (although as Seven’s political editor Mark Riley reported last week, it’s not the flow that matters, it’s the method of arrival, given 64,000 asylum seekers arrived by plane just last year without a murmur).

A single trailing 49–51 opinion poll is hardly cause for celebration. In today’s Crikey, William Bowe has an excellent corrective to all the polling analysis, headlined [$]: “No, this is isn’t Morrison’s ‘Tampa moment’”. Bowe argues that the medical transfers bill is unlikely to have so quickly permeated the consciousness of most respondents to the Ipsos poll, and that the finding is at odds with a Courier-Mail poll in Queensland over the weekend. He also notes that the Ipsos poll is at odds with the longer-running trend, with Essential Research’s twice-yearly surveys finding the Coalition’s advantage on asylum-seeker policy steadily disappearing since it came to power in 2013.

Immigration Minister David Coleman was on song on Sky News today: “The bottom line is we know what happened between 2007 and 2013. If you look at Australia’s public policy history since the Second World War, it is very hard to come up with anything that is as bad as what happened in that period. People died. Kids died. Eight thousand kids were basically locked up in detention. And we can never ever let that happen again. And this prime minister is not going to let that happen again. And that’s why it’s important that we pursue policies which secure our borders and also provide the appropriate care to people.”

Coleman’s argument about a policy disaster six years ago – which puts the Coalition case as well as it can be put – may not outweigh current public concern about the welfare of the thousand people being held on Manus Island and Nauru indefinitely. Nor is it certain to outweigh public concern about the morality of using those people as a deterrent to other would-be asylum seekers, or the enormous ongoing cost of continuing to process these arrivals offshore. This is particularly the case when it’s inflated by the unnecessary re-opening of Christmas Island, or when exorbitant and opaque contracts like that awarded to obscure Paladin are factored in.

Labor insists it has learnt its lesson, as Shorten said today: “I promise Australians we will fight the people smugglers, we will stop the people smugglers. If we win the next election we will have the same navy and the same air force and the same border force, we will do all the same things, except we will make sure that we can have strong borders without sacrificing the humanity of treating a few people who are in our duty of care.”

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers


“[Energy Minister Angus Taylor is] in such a rush to funnel taxpayer funds to new coal-fired power stations before the election, he seems to have overlooked that he has no constitutional authority to do so.” THE GUARDIAN

Richie Merzian, climate and energy program director at The Australia Institute, commenting on a legal opinion that the federal government’s proposal to underwrite new power generation will require legislation to be constitutional.


“The government takes the abuse and neglect of those disabilities seriously. At no point as a prime minister have I said I oppose a royal commission. What I said clearly in the House last week was we would consider this matter clearly and that matter will come before the house later today. I expect the motion to be passed as I made clear over the weekend, Mr Speaker.”THE GUARDIAN

The PM in Question Time, neither supporting nor opposing a royal commission into disability abuse.

The Number

The number of people, including two ministers – Michaelia Cash and Michael Keenan – who refused to cooperate with the AFP investigation into the leak of a pending raid on the AWU, according to evidence given in estimates this morning. READ ON [$]

The Policy

“The root cause of the fish kills is that there is not enough water in the Darling system to avoid catastrophic decline of condition through dry periods. This is despite a substantial body of scientific research that points to the need for appropriate flow regimes.” AUSTRALIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCE

The list

“The practical approach to reform is clearly crucial, but to make it work there needs to be the cultural, emotional, inclusive commitment to a real partnership. The biggest gap that needs closing is non-Indigenous Australia’s lack of an acknowledgement of the past.” THE MONTHLY


“The parliamentary inquiry into the implications of removing refundable franking credits was less than two minutes into its public hearing at the Chatswood Club in Sydney’s north when Matthew Benson made his move. ‘This process is a scam!’ he shouted, interrupting chair Tim Wilson’s opening remarks.” THE SATURDAY PAPER


“Although the federal government picked up the $10 million tab for the ten-year loan of the pandas from China, the associated capital works have contributed to the zoo’s $24 million debt. It is difficult to begrudge the pandas any of this: they are cuter than any large thing has a right to be.” the MONTHLY

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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