Holding the line
Cracks are appearing in the Coalition’s immigration consensus
It’s not clear what will happen to the family of four that has spent almost two years in detention on Christmas Island, but one thing is for sure: the Coalition is now in a state of turmoil over it, if determined to present a united front. Last night it was revealed that Liberal MPs were privately (though not publicly) pushing for the Biloela family to be moved to the mainland, as a candlelight vigil took place outside the Perth hospital where three-year-old Tharnicaa is being treated. Immigration Minister Alex Hawke – who is required to consider whether to “lift the bar” preventing her from applying for a visa – has reportedly received a formal submission from the family’s lawyers, and is considering his decision. But it’s obvious that attempts have been made to pull the troops into line. After a few days of hinting at resettlement, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews this morning did an inelegant job of walking back the “resettlement options” suggestion she made on Tuesday. Andrews told Sunrise the government was not considering resettlement options for the family, and said her earlier comment had been referring to those medevaced from Manus Island and Nauru – even though she was being asked about the family when she said it. “It was a very general comment in relation to cohorts that we have here in Australia,” she claimed, before returning to the government’s preferred messaging on the matter. “I am not going to have people dying trying to come to Australia by sea on my watch,” she said, echoing Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, who yesterday told a business event that people-smugglers “watch” Australia. The government, sadly, is recommitting to its hardline stance, at a time when support for the Biloela family appears to be the highest it’s ever been. But the cracks are beginning to show.
It’s difficult to believe that Andrews – whom many hoped would be more compassionate than her predecessor, Peter Dutton – was making a “general comment in relation to a range of cohorts” when she floated the settlement options during Tuesday’s Operation Ironside press conference, having been asked directly when the family would be released. At the time of the comment, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was quick to try to turn it into a general one, cutting in to say that it “applies across all cohorts, across all groups, not specifically” to the family, trying to shut down the idea before it picked up steam (“Yes,” Andrews hastily agreed). But the home affairs minister wasn’t the only one who hinted at resettlement for the family this week. Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne took Andrews’ words and ran with them on 2GB that afternoon, indicating that the US and New Zealand were being looked at as possible resettlement locations. “The United States and New Zealand are both in the frame,” she told the radio station. So, were two of Morrison’s most senior ministers wrong? It seems more likely they have been brought into line by the PM, with Morrison unwilling to have this issue progress while he is out of the country. It’s a shame the government has taken this path, especially at a time when – as even News Corp columnists note – it has a rare opportunity, and a reasonable excuse, to finally let the family go free.
The government, of course, would rather we stopped paying attention to its internal war over the Biloela family, and stay focused on the war it is intent on drumming up with China. Defence Minister Peter Dutton today addressed a conference run by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (known for its anti-China sentiments), echoing his previous claims about the prospect of conflict being “less remote” than in the past, and that it was important to have a “frank and nuanced discussion” about it. The prime minister is soon leaving for the G7 summit in Europe (with a stopover in Singapore to discuss a potential travel bubble), but he made sure to beat the war drum on the way out the door, using yesterday’s big foreign policy speech to warn of the rising risk of conflict involving China. Beijing has “bristled” at Australia and Japan’s new joint statement on China’s aggressive economic “coercion”, with foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin accusing the two nations of “hyping up the so-called ‘China threat’”.
There is nothing this government loves more than hyping up a threat (to use Wang’s words), whether on China or people-smugglers or the risks of COVID, so long as it suits them to do so. After days of pressuring the Victorian government to end its lockdown (along with last week’s claims that he didn’t want to incentivise any overly cautious approaches by the states), Morrison has today turned – again – into the prime minister who “won’t take risks with Aussies’ lives”. When quizzed on Perth radio station 6PR over his refusal to set a date for the international border to reopen, Morrison noted that the United Kingdom, where he was headed, had 4000 cases per day. “If you’re suggesting that we should be aiming for a position where we can have 4000 cases a day,” he said, after simply being asked why he wouldn’t set a date, “then I don’t think Australians would agree with you”. As always, Scott Morrison is here to protect us – even if it means keeping people locked away indefinitely.
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Yes, this is still going. Victorian shadow treasurer Louise Staley continues to press queries about Premier Daniel Andrews’ accident. Victoria Police chief commissioner Shane Patton confirmed to ABC radio this morning that there had been no reason for police to be involved.
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It’s not clear what will happen to the family of four that has spent almost two years in detention on Christmas Island, but one thing is for sure: the Coalition is now in a state of turmoil over it, if determined to present a united front. Last night it was revealed that Liberal MPs were privately (though not publicly) pushing for the Biloela family to be moved to the mainland, as a candlelight vigil took place outside the Perth hospital where three-year-old Tharnicaa is being treated. Immigration Minister Alex Hawke – who is...
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