Morrison Outsmarts Labor on Boats, But Then Hello World Reality Hits

The Morrison Government, after suffering the humiliation of becoming the first government since 1929 to lose a legislative vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, surprisingly came back to the second week of Federal Parliament with a spring in their step.

The passing of the MediVac Bill allowed the Coalition to play to their one remaining electoral strength, that of border security. Scott Morrison claimed that Labor supporting the MediVac Bill had jeopardised border security and announced that he was reopening the Christmas Island Processing Centre to deal with any new boat arrivals.

This week we learned that the Christmas Island centre was being reopened was to thwart the MediVac Bill and outsmart Labor by having sick asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island flown to Christmas Island for medical treatment. Unlike Nauru or Manus, Christmas Island is part of Australia but is excised from Australia’s migration zone so asylum seekers cannot launch action through the use of Australia’s court system.

The government of Nauru said it was not going to allow asylum seekers to be assessed by Australian doctors unless they had seen a local doctor first, which also threw the intended operation the MediVac Bill into doubt.

An Ipsos poll published in the Nine newspapers last Sunday night showed the two-party preferred gap had tightened with the Coalition now only trailing 49-51. The promise of strong border security had resonated with pollers.

With his sights set on winning the next election, Bill Shorten said he had no objection to asylum seekers receiving medical treatment on Christmas Island, claiming his intention all along, (including when voting for the MediVac Bill) was to ensure those asylum seekers in offshore centers had access to acceptable medical treatment. This justification gave Shorten an easy way out, although it upset his left flank and the author of the bill, Independent Kerryn Phelps. She called the proposal a ‘subversion of democracy’, but Shorten, after all, moves with the polls.

The Coalition emboldened by the Ipsos poll used the second week of Parliament to expand their attacks on Labor’s policies to include its removal of negative gearing and ending of franking credits. There was a feeling among the Coalition partyroom that momentum was finally back on their side and Labor were on the defensive.

But while the House was sitting the Senate was conducting Senate Estimates hearings which are known for revealing embarrassing incidents for governments or the public service. It was revealed on Tuesday that Finance Minister Mathias Cormann had family travel to Singapore and that $2700 of their travel was funded by the company, Hello World Travel.

The reasons this event gained attention was that the CEO of Hello World Travel is Andrew Burnes, The Liberal Party’s Federal Treasurer, and Hello World had just won a lucrative government contract to facilitate travel arrangements for the federal government.

While there was no evidence that Cormann intentionally accepted a gift from Hello World and he has since paid the $2700 to Hello World. The company blamed the situation on a billing error, assuring that Cormann had no hand in the awarding of the contract which went through. Perception is everything in politics and the initial non-payment of this trip has drawn public attention to the intricate relationships between politicians and those who benefit from government expenditure.

While Cormann’s credit card non-charge is a minor embarrassment as he admitted himself, what catapulted Hello World’s connection to the Liberal Party to centre stage last week was a meeting in 2017 between Hello World Executive Russell Carstensen, the Australian Ambassador and former Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey at the Australian Embassy.

As well as the already established Liberal Party connections with the company Hockey himself has shares in Hello World worth $1 million. Carstensen inquired to Andrew Burnes how the meeting at the embassy could be arranged at such short notice, to which he replied, ‘Hockey owes me’. Burnes has denied saying this, Carstensen has now left Hello World and has been described as a disgruntled former employee.

Labor seized up the Hello World revelations and vowed that its connections to the Liberal Party and any allegations of impropriety in the awarding of government contracts would be the first item of business of their proposed National Integrity Commission. It allowed Labor to flip Question Time from being on the defensive on its commitment to border security onto an offensive with their portrayal of the Government as one that looks after only their own and the top end of town.

After the Ipsos poll there was much anticipation over the next Newspoll due on Sunday evening. Many were sceptical of the Ipsos poll considering it a rogue poll, with Newspoll considered more accurate. It showed no change in the two-party preferred vote with Labor leading 53 to 47, meaning the Coalition would lose around 20 seats.

This would demonstrate that despite the Morrison Government attempting put border security front and centre, no movement in the polls further proves the hypothesis that the voters have stopped listening and already made up their minds for the next election.

Scott Morrison on Monday shifted the policy discussion to climate change announcing a $2 billion climate change reduction fund called Climate Solutions. Many suspected that this surprise announcement was done shore up votes for the Liberal Party in inner-city blue-ribbon seats such as Wentworth, Warringah, Kooyung and Higgins where climate change is a concern of voters. The Victorian state election demonstrated that the Liberals were in trouble in their heartland.

The Climate Solutions policy has perplexed many commentators given that Malcolm Turnbull lost his job because his National Energy Guarteene was considered too pro-climate change, yet in the end Coalition has ended up with a big spending, big government climate change policy which talks up their Paris Agreement commitments.

A brief policy spark followed by yet another political sideshow has been the story of the Coalition Government this past term. All they have on show in terms of fiscal policy is a budget surplus delivered in April, but recent history has shown this will be consumed by yet another scandal. A political miracle for the Coalition still looks almost impossible.

Site Managed by ManageWP® Australia