La­bor soft­ens bor­der pol­icy



Bill Shorten has soft­ened La­bor’s bor­der-pro­tec­tion pol­icy ahead of the party’s na­tional con­fer­ence, af­ter a failed at­tempt last night to hold na­tional-se­cu­rity laws as a ran­som in ex­change for wa­tered­down im­mi­gra­tion rules that would hand doc­tors the power to re­lo­cate refugees to Aus­tralia.

In an 11th-hour ca­pit­u­la­tion, La­bor voted in the Se­nate last night to sup­port the gov­ern­ment’s en­cryp­tion laws, which in­tel­li­gence agen­cies had said were needed to keep Aus­tralians safe over Christ­mas, de­spite the Op­po­si­tion Leader claim­ing they were un­sat­is­fac­tory.

Mr Shorten’s back­down fol­lowed threats to scut­tle the en­cryp­tion laws, which tar­get ter­ror­ists, pe­dophiles and crime gangs, through a se­ries of last-minute amend­ments in the Se­nate and by link­ing them to an un­re­lated bill to fast-track the med­i­cal trans­fer of refugees and their fam­i­lies from Nauru and Manus Is­land.

The gov­ern­ment’s tac­ti­cal vic­tory sets up an­other show­down on asy­lum-seek­ers when par­lia­ment re­turns in Fe­bru­ary, three months be­fore an ex­pected May elec­tion, with the “medi­vac” bill des­tined to pass the lower house with cross­bench sup­port.

Scott Mor­ri­son, writ­ing in The Aus­tralian to­day, says the de­ci­sion by La­bor and the Greens to ob­struct the gov­ern­ment’s en­cryp­tion leg­is­la­tion was “shame­ful”. “They think ob­struct­ing good gov­ern­ment helps them get ‘a win’ on the nightly news by show­ing loud and noisy par­lia­men­tary cham­bers. In­stead, it’s weak­en­ing Aus­tralia’s ca­pac­ity to re­spond to crim­i­nal and ter­ror­ist threats,” the Prime Min­is­ter writes.

“Along­side their games with en­cryp­tion, La­bor is push­ing the in­de­pen­dents and cross­benchers to in­cre­men­tally dis­man­tle the gov­ern­ment’s suc­cess­ful bor­der­pro­tec­tion poli­cies.

“They want to de­stroy the build­ing blocks of bor­der pro­tec­tion that keep Aus­tralians safe. Last time La­bor dis­man­tled Coali­tion poli­cies on bor­ders, 50,000 peo­ple il­le­gally en­tered Aus­tralia on 800 boats and over 1000 peo­ple died at sea.”

The La­bor-backed changes to im­mi­gra­tion laws, which are likely to pass the par­lia­ment in Fe­bru­ary with sup­port of cross­benchers, would not only get refugee chil­dren out of de­ten­tion.

The pro­posed La­bor-Green­scross­bench laws would hand doc­tors the abil­ity to evac­u­ate refugees and asy­lum-seek­ers from Nauru and Manus Is­land for med­i­cal rea­sons, a change the Prime Min­is­ter de­clared would dis­man­tle off­shore pro­cess­ing.

Un­der the changes, based on those pro­posed by in­de­pen­dent MP Ker­ryn Phelps, those in off­shore pro­cess­ing could be trans­ferred to Aus­tralia with their fam­i­lies on the ad­vice of two doc­tors. The ad­vice would be re­view­able by an in­de­pen­dent med­i­cal panel, and could only be over­rid­den by the im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter on na­tional-se­cu­rity grounds.

Mr Shorten ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of forc­ing the Se­nate to wave through “rushed” en­cryp­tion laws that still re­quired ma­jor changes, “be­cause it didn’t want to vote for get­ting kids off Nauru”.

“We want to see the kids off Nauru, kids who need med­i­cal treat­ment where the treat­ing medi­cos say they should be done,” Mr Shorten said. “We sim­ply say, they should get that treat­ment and the de­ci­sion-mak­ing should be trans­par­ent and ac­count­able.”

The Op­po­si­tion Leader is ex­pected to come un­der pres­sure from the Left over asy­lum-seek­ers when he fronts the three-day ALP na­tional con­fer­ence from De­cem­ber 16. Mr Shorten, who nar­rowly es­caped de­feat on the floor of the 2015 ALP con­fer­ence

when he sought back­ing for La­bor to have an of­fi­cial pol­icy repli­cat­ing the Coali­tion’s boat turn­backs, is ex­pected to fend off calls for a rev­er­sal of the pol­icy.

In a day of chaos, La­bor blind­sided the gov­ern­ment yes­ter­day by pulling its un­qual­i­fied sup­port for the en­cryp­tion bill, threat­en­ing amend­ments that would have stalled progress of the leg­is­la­tion.

The op­po­si­tion, in a ma­jor shift in pol­icy, linked the na­tion­alse­cu­rity mea­sures to the plight of refugees on Nauru and Manus.

The gov­ern­ment used de­lay­ing tac­tics in the Se­nate to pre­vent the Nauru and Manus med­i­cal trans­fer bill com­ing to the lower house yes­ter­day, where it would have passed with cross­bench sup­port.

Man­ager of op­po­si­tion busi­ness Tony Burke, in a tweet at 3.52pm, re­vealed La­bor had put the en­cryp­tion laws on the line in a bid to force the gov­ern­ment into a hu­mil­i­at­ing leg­isla­tive de­feat.

The stand­off on the last sit­ting day of par­lia­ment this year had put the gov­ern­ment at risk of be­ing the first to lose a leg­isla­tive vote in the house in al­most 80 years. But it ex­posed La­bor to ac­cu­sa­tions it was putting na­tional se­cu­rity at risk by hold­ing up anti-ter­ror laws that ASIO claimed were vi­tal to pro­tect Aus­tralians over Christ­mas.

Mr Mor­ri­son said the bill to change med­i­cal as­sess­ment rules for refugees would pave the way for re­set­tle­ment of refugees from off­shore pro­cess­ing cen­tres and dis­man­tle the cur­rent bor­der­pro­tec­tion ar­chi­tec­ture.

Fig­ures from the De­part­ment of Home Af­fairs show that more than 100 adults have been trans­ferred from Nauru for med­i­cal rea­sons since 2013, with 10 chil­dren re­main­ing on the is­land. How­ever, most re­mained in Aus­tralia fol­low­ing treat­ment af­ter in­junc­tions were filed by lawyers to pre­vent their re­moval. About 240 mi­nors have been re­lo­cated from off­shore pro­cess­ing cen­tres to Aus­tralia over the past sev­eral years.

Mr Mor­ri­son seized the op­por­tu­nity for a pre-elec­tion fight on na­tional se­cu­rity, warn­ing that any weak­en­ing of the gov­ern­ment’s bor­der-pro­tec­tion laws would restart the peo­plesmug­gling trade. “The La­bor Party have shown Aus­tralians to­day that when it comes to na­tional se­cu­rity and bor­der pro­tec­tion they will trade it all for pol­i­tics,” he said.

In an­other blow to La­bor tac­tics, op­po­si­tion le­gal af­fairs spokesman Mark Drefyus failed to win sup­port from cross­benchers to re­fer Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Pe­ter Dut­ton and Vic­to­rian Lib­eral MP Chris Crewther to the High Court be­fore Christ­mas.

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