Federal Parliament returned for 2019 this week for three of only fourteen sitting days before the expected federal election in May. Following the Liberals loss at the Wentworth by-election and Julia Banks’ defection from the Liberal Party late last year, the government has lost its majority on the floor on the House of Representatives.
Hence why many believe the lack of sitting days in the first half of the year is so the government can avoid as many embarrassing defeats as possible on the floor of the House. After this week of Parliament, you can’t blame them for this course of action.
The Morrison Government on Tuesday became the first government since 1929 to lose a legislative vote on the floor of the House over the MediVac Bill. The bill allows a panel of doctors to decide if an asylum seeker can come to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru for medical treatment, taking it out of the hands of the Minister unless the asylum seeker poses a security risk or has a serious criminal conviction.
Given that once in Australia for treatment asylum seekers are never returned to our offshore centres, the Morrison Government has said that Labor voting for this bill has significantly undermined Australia’s border security and the boats may return. Prime Minister Scott Morrison even went as far as reopening the Christmas Island offshore centre in preparation for an increase in boat arrives.
Border security is one of the few remaining issues of strength the Coalition has over Labor and hence they want to make this the centrepiece election issue. But the fact a government now has to enforce a law passed without its support, that humiliation can’t be underestimated.
Then on Thursday, the government decided to hold a record-breaking question time going for 148 minutes when it’s scheduled duration is only 70 minutes. This unprecedented course of action was taken as the government wanted to prevent a Labor motion passing calling for a royal commission into disability abuse.
With the Coalition being forced to hold Royal Commissions into the banks and aged care recently, the last thing they wanted, no matter the merits of the another Royal Commission, was being forced into another by Labor and other stakeholders.
With the government so easily losing control of the parliamentary agenda many are suggesting Scott Morrison call an election now. However, he has stated that he wants to bring down a surplus budget in April to go into an election in May.
Other sideshows were occurring around Parliament House throughout the week. That which obtained the most attention was a physical altercation between former One Nation, now United Australia Party Senator Brian Burston and Pauline Hanson’s Chief of Staff James Ashby. This was after Hanson and Burston accused each other of sexual misconduct. Burston who cut himself in the altercation smeared his blood on Pauline Hanson’s office.
Senate President Scott Ryan revoked James Ashby’s pass to Parliament House until further notice. The Australia Federal Police are now investigating the matter. Many conservative and Liberal hacks have used the alternation as an opportunity to attack the presence of minor parties in Australian politics. They conveniently forget that other major party players have been involved in scuffles in the past.
We also saw an emboldened left stage two protests inside Parliament House. On Wednesday the building had to be closed to visitors as Aboriginal environmental activists staged a sit-in protest against fracking in the Northern Territory and the government’s handling of the Murray Darling basin crisis.
Then on Thursday climate activists disrupted question time to yell at politicians, singling out Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce. They demanded “stop lying to us” and “take urgent action … you should get arrested for what you’re doing”.
Many commentators are claiming that with border policy front and centre this week the Coalition is back in the game. However, Newspoll is steady with Labor ahead 53-47 and a Guardian Essential poll still having the gap in landslide territory at 55-45.
All the signs point to the Australian people already having made up their minds for the next election. It remains doubtful that even a border security crisis could change their voting intentions. All will rest on the next round of polls.