READERS will know that the Medivac bill is nothing more than a naked attempt to dismantle offshore processing and bring every asylum seeker currently on Manus and Nauru to Australia under any and every medical pretext. Ostensibly, the bill is about bringing to Australia people who are so seriously ill they cannot be treated in Nauru or Manus. People with life threatening conditions, in other words. Anyone who takes comfort in the supposed ministerial discretion conceded by the Greens and their fellow travellers in the ALP is seriously deluded.
The bill supposedly allows the minister to overrule a decision to transfer on the basis of the ‘patient’s’ criminal history or potential for terrorism. However, if a person in one of these categories were genuinely in need of urgent life-saving treatment, would the activists meekly accept the refusal of a transfer? We can be certain they would be screaming from the rooftop of the nearest ABC studio. Would the minister really refuse permission and allow someone to die offshore? Do we deny life-saving treatments to terrorists, rapists or murderers in our own prisons? In the hundreds of transfers that have already occurred, did the minister refuse even a single case on character grounds? Has anyone died because the minister refused a transfer? I think not.
The exemptions are meaningless in the overall asylum-seeker policy. Offshore processing is not specifically designed to prevent terrorists or criminals coming to Australia, although this is certainly a fringe benefit, but to discourage undocumented and irregular arrivals.
The fact that Labor and the independents have acquiesced in these exemptions shows they don’t intend to honour them, that they know transferees will never leave Australia because the regime they have devised can be gamed with greater ease and thoroughness than the Victorian Premier’s Literature Award for non-fiction.
So where to from here? Late last year I wrote in these pages that this outcome was possible and suggested that Morrison use the summer break to gird his loins for an early election. This morning I heard Andrew Probyn opine on the ABC that Morrison would not hold off presenting this bill for Royal assent. He’s probably right, because I don’t think Morrison has the ticker for that, and it would mean, almost certainly, an early election.
But consider this: if Morrison were to advise the Governor-General to withhold assent and, at the same time, advise an election in, say, four weeks’ time, the campaign would be fought on the issue of border security/national sovereignty – the one issue on which the Coalition undoubtedly has the runs on the board. As the Coalition is determined to avoid tackling the energy mess lest that tack offend the factional leaders and spear-carriers who do the renewable rent-seekers’ bidding and are, in some cases, on their payroll, this is the big issue upon which it can win.
Shorten has exposed his weakness on this front but the momentum won’t last. Even if we see an increased number of transfers, it’s unlikely the ABC will immediately need to reactivate its log of leaky boat arrivals. People smugglers are morally wretched but not stupid. They’ll likely wait until Labor is installed before wishing a hearty ‘bon voyage’ to the first of the reborn armada making for Christmas Island. The pause will permit Shorten to argue that the Medivac bill has not prompted the dire outcome predicted by the government. As a consequence and as an election issue, the Coalition will find border security a much harder issue from which to harvest votes.
Yes, the timing of any federal poll is complicated by the NSW election due in March and by the government’s desire to bring down a surplus budget. It’s a difficult call but, as a general rule, when your wave comes in you had better ride it.