Labor Left plots as PM sets up poll face-off
Labor’s Left faction will push to fast-track refugee medical transfers to Australia through a change to the party platform at next weekend’s ALP national conference as Scott Morrison sets up an election showdown on border security.
The Weekend Australian understands Labor’s Left caucus will meet late next week, shortly before the conference, to finalise key amendments to the platform.
It is understood senior Labor MPs have expressed concerns that the nexus between the Coalition and Labor on border protection was at risk of shattering after the opposition supported rule changes that would allow asylum-seekers entry into Australia with the approval of doctors and an independent medical panel.
Bill Shorten yesterday rejected claims Labor was softening its position on border protection amid criticism from the Prime Minister, who warned that the opposition’s support for doctorordered medical evacuations to Australia would “abolish offshore processing as we know it”.
“We will turn back boats where it is safe to do so. We will still keep offshore processing full stop,” the Opposition Leader said.
“But if Mr Morrison is trying to argue that the only way you have borders, protections, is not to provide timely medical treatment to some asylum-seekers on Manus and Nauru, that’s rubbish.’’
In his first comments on Mr Shorten’s shift on refugee policy, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told The Weekend Australian “exactly as Kevin Rudd did; Bill Shorten is lying to the Australian people about Labor’s boats policy”.
“Kevin Rudd waited until he had won the election before he revealed the real policy. Bill Shorten can’t even hold it together on border protection policy in opposition, so imagine how bad he would be as prime minister,” Mr
Dutton said. He said that boats would “restart within weeks” if Labor was elected next year.
“Families will drown at sea and kids will be back in detention. The mess will be a disaster and Bill Shorten pretending to be tough on boats is now exposed for the lie it is,” he said.
Mr Dutton, who missed the final parliamentary sitting fortnight with an arm injury, accused Mr Shorten of pretending to be “tough on boats … It is Kevin Rudd all over again. Kevin Rudd tricked people all the way into government; at least people know now that if you vote for Labor, you get the boats.”
The ALP has set up a working group to consider migration and asylum-seeker issues ahead of the national conference, with party sources saying it would consider a platform change to give effect to the parliamentary party’s decision to support the streamlining of medical transfers for refugees.
Mr Morrison said there was no compelling argument for the overhaul, which would give a medical panel the power to confirm or reject a medical transfer recommended by doctors.
The immigration minister would also have the power to veto medical evacuations on national security grounds
Immigration Minister David Coleman told The Weekend Australian that under Labor’s rule changes, “a person who has been convicted of serious offences would have to come to Australia and there is nothing the minister could do to stop it”.
The government said the responsible minister would have no discretion under the proposed amendments to the Migration Act to block a non-refugee convicted of sex assault, murder, rape, violent assault and serious drug offences. It said if a refugee was under investigation for criminal offences, the government would be forced to transfer them to Australia if two doctors assessed they should be brought in for medical treatment or assessment.
It also warned that two doctors who have never met a “transferee” could make recommendations on the basis of a remote consultation via Skype.
The Weekend Australian has confirmed that in his report yes- terday to a Liberal Party federal executive meeting in Canberra, the Prime Minister said he would not give Mr Shorten “any leeway” over Labor’s support for the medical evacuations.
Mr Morrison yesterday said the Labor-Greens-crossbench proposed legislative changes presented a “great risk to Australia’s borders”.
Mr Shorten attacked the government, saying it was encouraging people-smugglers to test Labor’s resolve if it won office at the next election.
He also honed his pitch to Liberal voters dissatisfied with the Coalition following the government’s loss in the Wentworth byelection in October and the recent defection of Victorian Liberal MP Julia Banks.