The ending of the nice, short three day week of Parliament began with the Green’s MP Adam Bandt moving this motion:
That this House:
(1) condemns the Gillard Government’s deal with Malaysia that would see 800 asylum seekers intercepted in Australian waters and sent to Malaysia; and
(2) calls on the Government to immediately abandon this proposal,
The motion passed 72-70 with the Libs voting with the Greens and of the independents MPs, Katter and Wilkie voted for and Oakeshott and Windsor voted against.
The motion of course has no legal weight, and was little more than a symbolic statement from the Greens (the Government has yet to lose a vote on a legislative matter in this hung parliament). It was embarrassing for the Government to lose this vote, but given the Government is pursuing the Malaysian policy in the first place, I don’t think embarrassment is something they are worried about. The bigger issue will be when the Green’s Bill which would require Parliament to approve to any deal involving the expulsion of asylum seekers to a third country comes up for a vote (the Libs however might ponder the consequences of that Bill on their own Nauru plans and vote against it).
Question Time consisted of a mere five questions. Now in Question Time quantity often can have a strong inverse correlation with quality, but this lack of number did not sadly result in much that was of much worth.
There was some mirth though, so it had that going for it.
Abbott opened with this delivery:
My question is to the Prime Minister and it follows up on my previous question. Can the Prime Minister confirm that never before in Australia's parliamentary history have both houses of this parliament condemned a government policy, and can she confirm that the government now intends to defy the express will of both houses of this parliament?
Well yeah, I guess it is a first, but I guess as well it has been a while since there was a minority Government…
After a supplementary, another question from Abbott and one from Julie Bishop, Abbott rose and took everyone by surprise and moved a motion to suspend standing orders. The surprise being not that he moved this, but that he did it at 2:25pm and not 2:52 (which I had in the suspension of standing orders sweep).
If nothing else this motion showed that Tony Abbott was not suffering a hangover from the Press Gallery Mid-Winter Ball held the night before, because he turned up the volume and shouted hither and thither in a manner that would have had many a tender headed MP or journo reaching for the aspirin:
Now I have no problems with those arguing the Malaysian deal is a dud policy, but the problem for Abbott is that when he (or others such as Scott Morrison) rise to attack it, they find themselves in the same swimming pool of hypocrisy in which they accuse the the ALP of floating – maybe at different ends, but the same pool nonetheless.
For we see Tony Abbott say this:
The parliament and the people of Australia are sending a very clear message to this government and to this Prime Minister: this Malaysian people swap is just not on. It is just not on because it is cruel, it is costly and it will be ineffective.
Now I always thought the point of the Liberal’s Pacific Solution was to be cruel to be kind? Isn’t the whole point that the result is a deterrent? It seems not. For hear now as Tony Abbott talks about Nauru:
I have seen where boat people will be accommodated—and well accommodated. I have seen where boat people's children will be educated—and well educated. I have seen the police headquarters which will deal with security issues involving boat people in Nauru. And I can tell you this, Mr Speaker: there are no rattans in Nauru and there are no whipping posts in Nauru.
Well accommodated? Well educated? A new police station? How will that deter anyone who has been living through hell, persecuted, starving and desperate for a new life? Here was Tony Abbott last year when the Government opened the Inverbrackie army barracks as a detention centre:
"Bringing asylum seekers to a place like this is hardly sending the right message to the tens of thousands of potential boat people in our region," he said. "[It] is basically saying to the people smugglers and their customers that the welcome mat is out, that the red-carpet treatment is available.
"You do not send idyllic picture postcards from Australia to the people smugglers and their customers."
No I guess what you do is say they’ll be going to a place where they will be well accommodated, their kids well educated and where the police will be responsible… you know, like Australia.
This is always the big logical fail aspect of this debate. We go from wanting to be cruel (you know – to be kind), but when one side (bizarrely in this case, the ALP) is too cruel, the other side starts talking about being kind. Well then why are we bothering with being kind in Nauru when we can be kinder and do it for less cost here in Australia?
Nauru won’t work as a deterrent anymore because everyone knows that if you are a genuine refugee, Nauru does not severely limit your chances of ending up on Australia (or New Zealand), and Abbott is now going to such lengths to say how great the place is that it may actually seem pretty great to asylum seekers!
Oh mother, how did we get here?
I think the ALP’s regional solution is worth chasing, but there are so many factors that need to fall into place for it to work that it is something you don’t want to do on the fly – which this policy smacks of.
My concern is that the Malaysian solution might just work – which means that any hope of decency on this issue will be gone for good (OK it’s probably gone already and has been for a while now).
Julie Bishop also rose to speak on the suspension motion. She decided not to bother the thesaurus too much and instead referred to Julia Gillard as “this arrogant Prime Minister” three time before she drew a breath (she used arrogant 10 times in her 5 minute speech – it was a bit of a theme). She then got slightly carried away:
This is the type of behaviour we see in Third World dictatorships. This is the kind of behaviour, overriding the majority of both houses of parliament, overriding the will of the parliament, overriding the views of the majority of the elected members to this place.
Third World dictators generally don’t allow members of the opposition to stand in Parliament, while broadcast on free TV, and criticise and abuse them. But hey, maybe Third World dictatorships, like conditions on Nauru, have recently become kinder and gentler.
When Anthony Albanese rose to speak against the motion he revealed not only the core problem with the whole farce of a debate about the Government defying the parliament, but also the core problem with the asylum seeker debate itself. For not only did the Parliament vote against the ALP’s Malaysian policy it voted last year against the LNP’s Nauru policy. Back on 28 October 2010 Scott Morrison moved a plethora of motions relating to the Liberal’s asylum seeker policy. Among them was:
That this house:
(3) calls for the introduction of proven policies proposed by the Coalition to address unprecedented irregular maritime arrivals to Australia, including:
(a) the application of temporary visas for all persons who have arrived illegally in Australia;
(b) the reopening of a third country processing centre in Nauru for irregular maritime arrivals to Australia;
The vote on that motion was lost 72-73 – Katter voted for it. Oakeshott, Windsor, Bandt and Wilkie voted against.
So we have a wonderful situation where neither side, if it had to, would be able to pass legislation to introduce its asylum seeker policies.
Which to me, given the two policies on offer, feels like a correct result.
The other news today was that Greg Combet announced there would be a $15 million advertising/information campaign on the carbon tax. That this would happen eventually is not a shock given it was in the budget. But to announce it before an agreement has been reached and without bothering to get the independents and the Greens to sign off on it (as members of the Multi-Party Committee on Climate Change) is, to put it mildly, dopey.
David Speers on Sky News revealed that the story of the advertising campaign was going to be revealed tomorrow and so Combet announced it today to beat the story. Why they are even bothering to tender at this point for a firm to do the marketing is yet to be explained.
Little wonder Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor were criticising the decision. And yes I know the $12m is squillions less than what the Howard Govt spent on advertising for Work Choices and for the Private Health Policy and on the GST. The point, however, is that once again the ALP finds itself looking like it has moved ahead without ensuring all the i’s have been dotted and t’s crossed.
The basics, guys. Geez, get the basics right.