All Shorten had to do was sit by in a reasonably calm and ordered mood but instead he handed Scott Morrison a ‘get out of jail free card’.
Why did Bill Shorten do it? Why did the Opposition Leader decide to stick Labor’s collective head above the parapet on national security and border protection?
When all Shorten has to do is sit by in a reasonably calm and ordered mood, he hands Scott Morrison a get-out-of-jail-free card.
This isn’t going to suddenly reverse the Coalition’s woes or change the prospect of a Labor election win next year but it’s the sort of political judgment that will raise real questions and give Scott Morrison hope.
Amid parliamentary technical chaos — with uncertainty about votes on the floor of the house and the Coalition’s failure to get through its agenda, such as powergeneration divestment — Shorten made things look messy for the ALP as well.
It was fairly simple; the Coalition was claiming new laws were necessary to allow security bodies to break into encrypted messages to fight terrorists, gangsters and pedophiles, and the Greens and independents were seeking to get all remaining asylum-seekers off Nauru and Manus Island with medical certificates.
The two issues weren’t linked and there was a reasonable argument for the ALP to say amendments were necessary on the encryption laws to prevent overreach. What’s more, Labor had assisted the Greens and independents the day before to try to use parliamentary procedure to get the motion on Nauruan evacu- ations through the House of Representatives and it failed. There was room for an honourable withdrawal on border protection.
Yet on the last day of parliamentary sittings for 2018, when Morrison and the Coalition had been battered for days, Labor handed the besieged leader a lifeline.
By lining up with the Greens on changes to border protection and appearing to oppose security laws the security forces said were necessary, Labor may have appealed to left-wing voters but played to Coalition strengths.
Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter were able to label the moves a “cheap political stunt” while Christopher Pyne went for the vulgar jugular and accused Labor of not wanting to act against terrorists, gangsters and pedophiles.
There was too much of parliamentary tactics in Labor’s approach and not enough of end-ofyear broad picture for Labor to capitalise on the Coalition’s obvious woes. Morrison was handed a script he had written years ago on border protection, children in detention, drowning babies, sinking boats and billions lost in budget dollars.
If Morrison looks uncomfortable as Prime Minister and limited as Liberal leader because of inexperience or his predecessor’s sabotage, the one area where he looks confident is on border protection.
Labor was on safer ground suggesting Morrison was overreaching on the encryption laws but even ALP ministers know how people-smugglers misrepresent any legislative change — not just the wholesale changes made under Kevin Rudd in 2008 — and the Prime Minister had an argument when he said the peoplesmugglers would be “selling tickets again”.
The last day of parliament isn’t going to save the Coalition, but it’s a worrying sign for Labor.
Bill Shorten, left, and Scott Morrison at a charity Christmas present collection at Parliament House yesterday