Wren's week: Parliamentary bills, Aussies in space and a Federal ICAC

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The encryption bill has brought us one step closer to a dystopian future (Image edited by Dan Jensen)

This week, John Wren examines the encryption bill, Australia's entry into the space program and the truth behind the long-awaited Federal ICAC.

Wren’s Week


I WANT TO START THIS WEEK on Labor’s response to the Assistance and Access Bill (the encryption bill) that spectacularly finished off last week’s sitting in the House of Reps. After toing and froing and filibustering all day – also involving another bill, Independent Kerryn Phelps’s Nauru Medical Evacuation Bill – Morrison pulled up stumps early not allowing either bill to be voted on. Labor’s senate team came out in the evening against expectations and supported the bill. There was much consternation and wringing of hands as to why Labor had appeared to acquiesce and support the bill (which, in my opinion, is deeply flawed and unworkable).

We need to understand the bigger picture. Labor’s goal is to win power. This is Realpolitik. It cannot implement the big vision it has for Australia unless it wins the election. Labor insiders have known for some time that the Liberals (in the absence of actual policy) will rely on a massive national security scare campaign — their ongoing rhetoric that Labor is soft on migration and will open borders is ubiquitous.

At the beginning of last week, we heard the old desiccated coconut John Howard make the comment that the Libs could win “when they found their voice on national security. That rang alarm bells within Labor. On Thursday, Defence Procurement Minister Chris Pyne let slip a tweet (below) saying Labor was siding with terrorists and paedophiles if they did not support the bill. He later deleted the tweet. Insiders tell me that Labor also learnt of talk within Liberal circles to engineer an event such as a sinking refugee boat with multiple drownings that would garner public opinion in their favour the way Tampa did for, yes, former PM John Howard in 2001, that stole the election from Labor and Kim Beazley. As Keating famously said, the Liberals are like dogs returning to their own vomit.

Frantic meetings were held amongst the Labor leadership on Thursday evening. A decision was made to support the bill, to blunt the Liberal “soft on security” attack. They also knew full well that it would be impossible to implement before February or March 2019 at the latest, when it is widely tipped that Morrison will call the election (my sources say 16 or 23 March — see leaked email below). Labor intends to win the election and, once in power, will be able to amend or repeal the bill. Please also note, we did not have the numbers to block the bill in the Senate anyway.

Early this week some of Liberals’ plans to engineer such an event started to take shape. It was revealed through leaked emails that Border Force was going to restrict its ocean patrols due to budget restraints (Dutton has blown his whole department’s budget. He is also laying off airport staff and making cuts in other areas). The leak was an obvious signal to people smugglers that they were less likely to be turned back. Clearly, there was an intention to restart the boat arrivals. Inevitably, a tragedy would ensue that would be the catalyst for the Tampa-like attack on Labor. After he was exposed on social media, Dutton was forced to backtrack on Wednesday saying the ocean patrols would continue after all. This really demonstrates the power of social media to hold politicians to account. Would Howard have gotten away with Tampa and Children Overboard in the age of Twitter and #auspol?

On Wednesday, we saw the Nightwatchman PM breathlessly announcing Adelaide as the new home of Australia’s Space Agency, saying it’s a testament to SA leadership and the Liberal State Government. He neglected to say that the Space Agency was actually a visionary Gillard Labor initiative from 2012 that was roundly condemned by the Libs and promptly scrapped by the incoming Abbott Government. So, what we really see in Adelaide is years of groundwork completed by the former Labor State Government being used to win a resurrected Labor Space Agency, with Scott Morrison taking the credit for it. He treats voters with contempt. He was also pork-barrelling in Whyalla earlier in the week. Why the focus on SA? Have a look at the Betfair odds for the Federal election in SA (below). They’re desperate.

It’s also interesting to note that while Australia is only just getting itself involved in space, our much-maligned trans-Tasman cousins already have an entirely Kiwi-designed rocket commercially launching satellites from their launch site on the East Cape of the North Island. They put Australia’s efforts to shame.

On Thursday, the Nightwatchman PM did a triple backflip with half pike twist and announced a Federal ICAC (he calls it a Commonwealth Anti-Corruption Commission). After years of debunking the concept and poo-pooing the need for it, with the election looming, Morrison had to try to head off the groundswell of public support for such a body (he called it a fringe issue only a few weeks ago). It’s Labor’s policy to create a Federal ICAC. A close inspection of his proposal showed it to be a sham body created to make it appear as though he was actually doing something. His commission will take no public submissions, have no public hearings and will be unable to make findings or give public reports. A total sham — the opposite of what the vast majority of voters want. He is clearly protecting the Liberals, their donors and cronies from public scrutiny. Why else would a body be created this way?

You can follow John Wren on Twitter @JohnWren1950.

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