Asylum seeker medical transfer bill before parliament


It’s the first day of parliament in 2019, and both sides of politics are under severe pressure over the medical transfer of asylum seekers. Follow all the latest news live.

SHORTEN ‘RAPIDLY UNRAVELLING’

Peter Dutton has fronted the media and hammered Bill Shorten over the medical transfer bill.

“This is a mess of Bill Shorten’s making,” Mr Dutton said.

“At least Kevin Rudd waited until he got into office before he dismantled the successful border protection policies.

“Mr Shorten is unravelling at a rapid rate.

“He doesn’t have the basic leadership capacity to make decisions on a crucial area of public policy, and he should apologise for the mistakes that he’s made.”

THE MYSTERIOUS MISSING MP

There was confusion in parliament this morning over the whereabouts of Labor MP Emma Husar.

Party sources told The Australian Labor was trying to find Ms Husar, whose vote could be critically important. Without her support, the asylum seeker bill could fail, as could Labor’s push to add two more weeks to the parliamentary sitting calendar.

Ms Husar has reportedly been considering moving to the crossbench after Labor did not endorse her to re-contest her marginal Sydney seat, Lindsay.

She was not at the party’s caucus meeting last night.

“Just swallow your rage. Even if it makes you choke,” Ms Husar tweeted a short while ago.

That was followed by evidence she was, in fact, at parliament. Mystery solved!

Q&A QUESTIONER HITS BACK

Mitchell Dye, the Q&A audience member Labor Senator Kristina Keneally labelled a “Young Liberal Plant” after his appearance on last night’s episode, has hit back at her.

Mr Dye asked the panel about Labor’s controversial franking credits policy.

“According to media reports, in Sarah Henderson’s ultra-marginal seat of Corangamite, over 9000 voters could see their bottom line made worse off by Labor’s proposed changes to franking credits,” Mr Dye said.

“Is Labor so confident of winning the upcoming election that it doesn’t need these 9000 votes or essentially, are changes likely to be on the cards?”

Ms Henderson responded by calling the policy a “terrible breach of trust” and an “appalling theft of older Australians’ money”.

“Labor intends to steal this money from older Australians,” she said.

Ms Keneally criticised Ms Henderson’s argument, and later posted several tweets calling Mr Dye a “plant”.

“I am incredibly disappointed that Senator Keneally feels the need to attack me rather than talking about the issue of franking credits,” Mr Dye told news.com.au this morning.

“I came to Q&A last night because I chose to – not because someone wanted me to be a ‘plant’ – after my brother was invited to the show by the producers.

“I submitted a number of questions to the program that I wanted answers to – some were critical of the government and some the opposition.

“I wrote all my own questions and did not get any advice from anyone else about what to ask.

Ultimately this was the question that the producers chose to run.”

Mr Dye said the show’s producers had called him during the day and he was “fully upfront” about his political allegiences.

“In my work as a volunteer community radio presenter around the electorate of Corangamite, I speak to politicians from all sides. I welcome the debate,” he said.

“We all have our own political views but I stand by my strong track record of being fair and balanced on Geelong community radio and welcoming to all sides.

“Just this morning I welcomed both Sarah Henderson and her opponent Libby Coker onto my show and both were given the opportunity to present both sides.”

Mitchell Dye with Malcolm Turnbull.

Mitchell Dye with Malcolm Turnbull.Source:Facebook

Mitchell Dye with Bill Shorten.

Mitchell Dye with Bill Shorten.Source:Facebook

He said his question “was aimed to facilitate a discussion about the electoral impacts” of Labor’s policy in the marginal seat.

“It’s a real shame that the Labor senator is more interested in attacking a regular citizen and volunteer community radio presenter rather than talking about this issue and the people potentially affected by Labor’s policy.

“I would like to see a higher standard of political debate where we talk about the issues rather than attacking each other personally, and it’s a dreadful shame that this wasn’t achieved on this occasion despite my best intentions.”

News.com.au has contacted Ms Keneally for comment.

GREENS REJECT LABOR’S CHANGES

Greens leader Richard Di Natale says his party will not support the medical transfer amendments Labor is proposing in their current form.

As a reminder, these are Labor’s three proposed changes to the legislation.

• Should two doctors recommend a transfer, the minister will have more time to consider the case. In its current form the bill only allows for 24 hours;

• The minister will have greater power to veto the transfer of anyone with a criminal record;

• The new medical transfer rules will only apply to asylum seekers who are already on Nauru or Manus Island — not any new arrivals.

The Greens’ problem is with the first change, which fails to specialise a specific timeframe. They say it would allow the government to delay transfers indefinitely.

“There needs to be a clear deadline,” Dr Di Natale said.

“Labor’s amendments don’t specify any time frames.

“They are proposing ‘as soon as practicable’. Now if the amendment they have put forward that reflects that language is adopted, it actually leaves it open-ended.”

Dr Di Natale said Labor’s proposals would be “worse than doing nothing”.

“It would actually make it harder to evacuate someone on the grounds of needing medical treatment than is currently the case without any legislation being passed,” he said.

He said Bill Shorten needed to modify what he was planning to put before parliament — and suggested the Labor leader was caving to political pressure.

“People are still making their mind up about Bill Shorten,” he said.

“We need a leader in the alternative government that is willing to make a stand.

“People still don’t know, where does Bill Shorten stand on this issue?”

CRAIG FOSTER PRAISES PM

As you know, refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi will arrive back in Australia today, having avoided extradition to his native Bahrain and been freed by Thai authorities.

There is a significant political aspect to this. Scott Morrison twice wrote to Thailand’s prime minister to request he intervene.

“He actually did a fabulous job. He really stepped up, he made it clear to the Thai prime minister how he felt about it,” former Socceroo Craig Foster, who led the campaign to free Hakeem, said today.

Now there’s another twist. Bahrain appears to be trying to apply some subtle pressure to Australia over the case.

The country has released a statement revealing its foreign minister, Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, met with the Australian ambassador to Bahrain today and gave him a memorandum about Mr Al-Araibi.

It contained “relevant court documents related to the extradition of Hakeem Al-Araibi”, including the international arrest warrant issued against the footballer.

However in a good sign, the foreign minister “stressed the Kingdom of Bahrain’s keenness to enhance bilateral co-operation with Australia” and noted that “such cases would not negatively impact relations between the two countries”.

Hakeem Al-Araibi. Picture: AP

Hakeem Al-Araibi. Picture: APSource:AP

GREENS NOT HAPPY

It sounds like Adam Bandt will be reluctant to support Labor’s medical transfer changes.

“On first look, Labor’s amendments don’t make the current terrible situation any better,” Mr Bandt said, according to The Australian.

“Labor is giving a lot of power back to Peter Dutton and it’s not clear that sick refugees will come to Australia any quicker than they do now.”

Mr Bandt’s vote is, of course, essential if the bill is to pass.

Greens MP Adam Bandt. Picture: AAP

Greens MP Adam Bandt. Picture: AAPSource:AAP

CITIZENSHIP DELAYS

The opposition has leapt on a report from the Auditor-General which says the Home Affairs Department is taking too long to process citizenship applications.

“The audit found that over the past four years, the number of citizenship applications stuck in the pipeline blew out by 771 per cent,” Tony Burke and Julian Hill said.

“Hundreds of thousands of Australian permanent residents living in the community who simply want to pledge their formal allegiance to Australia deserve much better than having their lives placed on hold by the black hole of a department.”

BLOW-UP OVER Q&A QUESTION

Labor Senator Kristina Keneally has taken issue with a moment during last night’s episode of Q&A.

Audience member Mitchell Dye asked the panel, which included Liberal MP Sarah Henderson, about Labor’s controversial franking credits policy.

“According to media reports, in Sarah Henderson’s ultra-marginal seat of Corangamite, over 9000 voters could see their bottom line made worse off by Labor’s proposed changes to franking credits,” Mr Dye said.

“Is Labor so confident of winning the upcoming election that it doesn’t need these 9000 votes or essentially, are changes likely to be on the cards?”

Ms Henderson responded by calling the policy a “terrible breach of trust” and an “appalling theft of older Australians’ money”.

“Labor intends to steal this money from older Australians,” she said.

“Let’s discuss this nonsense from Sarah Henderson,” Ms Keneally tweeted in response.

“What Sarah seems to fail to grasp is that these are tax refunds, in the form of cold hard cash, to people who don’t pay any tax.

“That means this is not their money. It is our money — all of us. We are giving away billions of dollars in a tax loophole by giving a refund to people who don’t pay any tax. Only four per cent of Australians benefit from this tax loophole, but all of us pay for it.”

She said 80 per cent of the benefit from franking credits went to the richest 20 per cent of retirees.

And she labelled the questioner, Mr Dye, a “Young Liberal plant”.

Sky News hosts Kieran Gilbert and Laura Jayes discussed the moment this morning.

“The point is, it’s fine for Liberals and Labor people to ask questions or whatever, but set-ups like this, particularly in an election campaign as we approach this period, can blow up in your face,” Gilbert said.

“If it’s too choreographed, in campaigns where people try to be too clever by half, put a plant in and then it’s exposed, it can just look a bit too tricky.”

Jayes brought up the controversy over the parliamentary economic committee’s inquiry into the franking credits policy. Committee Chair Tim Wilson has been accused of playing politics with the inquiry.

She said Mr Wilson had risked “over-egging” the issue, and the question on Q&A did the same thing.

“I think that was an over-egging. Not Ms Henderson’s fault, but it doesn’t look good,” Jayes said.

PM FIRES UP HIS COLLEAGUES

Scott Morrison just addressed his party room meeting, giving his MPs the traditional gee-up speech.

“Australians are strong. Australians are resilient. And under our government we’re going to continue to make Australia strong,” he said.

“A stronger economy, stronger borders, stronger services. That’s a strong Australia, and that’s what we’re about.

“Our opponents have plans that will make Australia weaker.”

Mr Morrison also thanked Linda Reynolds and the Australian Defence Force for their work combating the crisis in Queensland.

There was a lovely moment as Senator Arthur Sinodinos, who is returning to parliament today having recovered from cancer, rose to his feet and urged his colleagues to believe they could win the election.

“My only other plea is Michael McCormack, no more singing,” he added.

Mr McCormack, the Nationals leader, is an Elivs impersonator. I’ll just leave this image here.

Nationals leader Michael McCormack at the 2019 Elvis festival in Parkes, NSW.

Nationals leader Michael McCormack at the 2019 Elvis festival in Parkes, NSW.Source:Supplied

LABOR ‘HAPPY’ WITH CROSSBENCH

Shadow Immigration Minister Shayne Neumann says Labor is happy with its discussions with the crossbench.

“They have come with goodwill in relation to this matter. We are pleased that we’re working constructively in relation to these matters and we’ll have further discussions today,” he said at a doorstop this morning.

“This is about making sure that people get the medical care they need, and the government’s lies in relation to this matter are impalpable.”

Mr Neumann also confirmed Labor would push for parliament to schedule extra sitting weeks.

DI NATALE’S LETTER TO RUDD

The Sydney Morning Herald reports Greens leader Richard Di Natale has apologised to former prime minister Kevin Rudd for calling him a “sociopath” on Q&A in December.

“I unreservedly retract the suggestion that you are a sociopath,” Dr Di Natale wrote in a letter to Mr Rudd last week.

“I realise that this is a serious slur on your reputation as it is a clinical condition of a mental illness.”

Kevin Rudd, who is not a sociopath. Picture: AAP

Kevin Rudd, who is not a sociopath. Picture: AAPSource:AAP

‘FEAR IS ALL HE HAS LEFT’

The major parties are at odds over legislation that would make it easier to cancel the Australian citizenship of dual nationals convicted of terror offences.

“You don’t make Australians safer by passing laws that don’t work,” Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong said this morning.

“And you don’t make Australians safer by giving an incompetent minister in Peter Dutton more powers, and that’s what the legislation that is proposed does.”

Labor members of the federal parliament’s intelligence and security committee are taking the unusual step of issuing a dissenting report on the proposed anti-terror powers.

Late last year, Mr Dutton stripped Neil Prakash of his Australian citizenship and declared the Islamic State terrorist was a citizen of Fiji.

Ms Wong said the minister failed to consult with Fijian experts and his unilateral declaration had “no basis in fact”.

“It caused a diplomatic incident. It was a blunder that had to be fixed up by the foreign minister and by the prime minister,” she said.

“That did not make Australians safer.”

Ms Wong also took a swing at Scott Morrison for using “fear” on security issues to sway voters.

“He can’t run on his record because his record is cuts and chaos. He can’t run on stability because the government is bitterly divided, so all he wants to do is to manufacture a fight because fear is all he has left,” she said.

— with AAP

SHOWDOWN OUTSIDE CHURCH

Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten started the day by going to church together, but the brief moment of peace didn’t last long as politics intruded.

Both leaders did quick doorstops outside the church afterwards — standing in literally in the same spot, and within seconds of each other.

The Prime Minister said he had made it clear the asylum seeker bill was “acceptable in no form”.

“That matter will be determined I assume later in the parliament today,” he said.

“We will not be giving any comfort or any license for the parliament to support this in any way, shape or form.

“This bill is acceptable in absolutely no form, it only weakens our borders.”

Mr Shorten said the government was confusing stubbornness with strength.

“It is possible in Australia to have strong borders without treating people cruelly,” he said.

“What I’ve done is listen to the border experts and listen to the refugee advocates. I think this is not an issue that should be dividing the nation.

“It’s as simple as this. If you need to see a doctor to you go and check with the government minders, or do you check with the doctors?”

Both leaders spoke warmly of Thailand’s decision to free refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi and praised all the Australians who fought for him.

The two party leaders at church this morning. Picture: Kym Smith

The two party leaders at church this morning. Picture: Kym SmithSource:News Corp Australia

PHELPS OPEN TO CHANGES

Kerryn Phelps spoke to Sky News this morning and said she would consider Labor’s new position on medical transfers.

“We have to have a very careful look,” Dr Phelps said, indicating she might support “small tweaks” to the bill to make it acceptable to a majority of parliamentarians.

She was open to extending the amount of time the minister would have to consider a transfer recommendation, provided it didn’t become indefinite.

“If there are logistical difficulties with delivering an answer within 24 hours then it’s reasonable to stretch it out,” she said.

“Certainly where there is an urgent need for medical treatment within a certain period of time, time is of the essence.”

Dr Phelps was also willing to consider limiting the new transfer rules to asylum seekers already on Nauru and Manus Island.

“That might be something that we can look at. I’d have to again speak to the refugee sector about that,” she said.

“There’s no question that the Australian people are demanding action for the current cohort.”

She was more cautious about the idea of giving the minister more discretion to veto the transfer of anyone with a criminal record.

“You have to have a look at what the definition of criminality might be.”

She pointed out that in some countries from which asylum seekers had fled, they could have gained a criminal record for something like protesting against the government or, if they’re a woman, adultery.

Dr Phelps also did an interview with the ABC.

“What I’m very keen to do is to avoid being in exactly the same position where we are now, where the minister has excessive veto powers and runs every serious medical case through the courts, only to find that the doctor’s original recommendations were upheld,” she said.

SIX CRUCIAL VOTES

Last night Labor’s caucus decided to modify its position on the medical transfer of asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus Island to Australia.

It agreed to three changes:

• Should two doctors recommend a transfer, the minister will have more time to consider the case. In its current form the bill only allows for 24 hours;

• The minister will have greater power to veto the transfer of anyone with a criminal record;

• The new medical transfer rules will only apply to asylum seekers who are already on Nauru or Manus Island — not any new arrivals.

We don’t yet know whether these amendments will be supported by crossbench MPs Adam Bandt, Cathy McGowan, Rebekha Sharkie, Andrew Wilkie, Julia Banks and Kerryn Phelps. Dr Phelps has said she will take a “level-headed, methodical approach”.

The government has made it clear it will not vote for the bill in any form, so Labor will need the support of all those crossbenchers.





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