Politics

The Government Has Responded To The New Refugee Bill By Opening More Detention Centres

Predictably, ScoMo is reacting badly to yesterday's humiliating defeat.

Scott Morrison. The government spent today wasting time to avoid helping kids on Nauru.

This morning, the asylum seeker medical evacuation bill passed the Senate, meaning it’ll now become law. It was a rare, humiliating defeat for the government, and Scott Morrison has responded with characteristic grace by immediately moving to open more offshore detention centres.

If you’re not up to speed, we’ve got an explainer on the medevac bill that passed today here. In short, the bill will make sure asylum seekers detained on Manus and Nauru are evacuated to Australia for medical care when doctors recommend it, rather than leaving the decision in the hands of a government minister (Peter Dutton).

The government has been insisting that such a bill would cause people smugglers to start trying to send more people to Australia, so yesterday the Labor Party negotiated for a few amendments aimed at preventing that. One key amendment, for instance, limits the impact of this bill to people currently detained on Manus or Nauru — future arrivals won’t get the benefits of the law.

Try telling that to Scott Morrison, though, who announced this morning that he’ll be reopening the Christmas Island detention centre to prepare for new arrivals and “clean up the mess that Bill Shorten and Labor made yesterday, once again”.

“It’s my job now to ensure the boats don’t come back,” he wrote on Twitter. “I will to do everything within the Government’s power to ensure that what the Labor Party has done to weaken our borders does not result in boats coming to Australia.”

This is, to put it bluntly, a pretty outrageous twisting of the facts. First off, it’s worth remembering that all the bill in question does is secure greater medical care for people who are suffering and dying needlessly because of Australian government policies. The bill does not give asylum seekers a path to permanent settlement in Australia — all it does is transfer them to detention on Australian soil so they can receive adequate medical care. This is the policy the government is trying to describe as a drastic weakening of Australia’s borders.

The simple fact of better medical care in immigration detention doesn’t seem like a particularly strong incentive for people to start getting on boats and flocking to Australia. And, as mentioned above, Labor has already modified the bill to make sure those (small) benefits won’t apply to new arrivals.

Scott Morrison knows this, because he’s read the bill. But he’s conveniently leaving the detail out of his public comments on the issue, where he continues to insist that people smugglers will start sending increased numbers of boats to Australia again. See this exchange with Guardian political editor Katharine Murphy, where ScoMo just continues to talk over Murphy rather than acknowledge actual facts:

Basically, the Coalition’s response to yesterday’s humiliating defeat in Parliament has been to knowingly bend or even ignore the truth to salvage its reputation and position itself as the party that’s “stopping the boats”.

Remember that, as we approach this election.