Labor backs down on medivac bill after security briefing
BILL Shorten was scrambling on Monday night to back away from supporting Kerryn Phelps' plan to overhaul medical transfers after Labor capitulated to government pressure on three key measures.
After an hour long briefing from Home Affairs boss Mike Pezzullo, the Opposition Leader met with his shadow cabinet where they did an about-turn, thrashing out a plan to water down the impact of the proposed changes.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared on Monday there was no "middle ground" in the protection of Australia's borders and that any version of Dr Phelps' plan to hand the decision on boat people medical transfers to two doctors would weaken security.
Senior sources confirmed that Labor MPs and Senators last night agreed on three "negotiating principles" - ministerial discretion, timelines and ensuring it applied only to existing boat people - that immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann would use to strike a new deal with the crossbench on the plan.
But the sign off came with the caveat that final approval on the changes to the plan would rest with a caucus subcommittee.
MPs and Senators were also told that the definition of security was too narrow and that key aspects of the character test from the Migration Act be applied.
The change would be a massive backflip after Labor MPs had fiercely argued the current version of the bill, which the Opposition voted for 22 times in the Senate, handed the minister enough powers to intervene.
The Daily Telegraph first revealed last year that legal advice handed to the government on the plan meant the minister would have no power to refuse murders, rapists or other with questionable backgrounds on character grounds.
Mr Shorten was also believed to want the proposal limited to asylum seekers and refugees currently on Manus and Nauru in a bid to neutralise the government's attacks that people smugglers would use the new scheme to sell seats on leaky boats.
He was understood to have told the room that the timelines for ministerial intervention in the current proposal were too tight.
During about 20 minutes of discussion in a closed-door meeting two MPs urged Labor to ensure the plan included specific timeline decisions, contesting the preferred position that the wording be "as soon as practicable".
One MP noted that it was particularly important to have a firm timeline because abortion was still illegal on Nauru.
Labor only has until Tuesday afternoon when the proposal will come up for a vote to strike a new deal with the crossbench.
If passed, it would be a historic loss for the government.
The last time a government lost a vote on substantive legislation in federal parliament was in 1929.
Despite the potential embarrassment Mr Morrison pledged on Monday that the Coalition would not compromise on the issue.
"This bill is unnecessary. It's superfluous. It adds nothing to border protection, it only takes away. Therefore its passage in any form takes us backwards," an emotional Mr Morrison said.
"This is the problem with Bill Shorten on national security, on borders or anything else. He thinks it's something you trade on. He says 'Oh, let's find the middle ground'.
"I'm going to stand on the right ground. "You want to join me on the right ground Bill, you're welcome.
"But I'm not going to find some middle ground, you can split the difference on 1,200 deaths (at sea)."
Security agencies have warned the changes could see up to 1000 asylum seekers brought to Australia within just weeks.
Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim accused Labor of going weak at the knees. "We're not going to vote for something that would either make no difference, or make life worse for refugees," he said.
AMA doctor slammed over Nauru-Auschwitz comparison
by Danielle Le Messurier
An Australian Medical Association doctor has been condemned for comparing the treatment of asylum seekers living in offshore processing centres to the Holocaust.
Dr Paul Bauert, the paediatrics representative on the AMA Federal Council, was condemned on Monday over "appalling" comments suggesting people living in detention are worse off than those killed in Nazi gas chambers during World War II.
In an interview with Sky News, Dr Bauert said offshore processing in places like Nauru has a "lack of certainty" which can cause "severe mental health damage".
"Even those that finally knew they were about to be condemned at the gas chamber at least found some sense of relief in knowing what was happening," he said.
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff slammed Dr Bauert for demonstrating a "gross lack of empathy" for Holocaust victims, survivors and their families.
"The extraordinary ignorance and callousness in the statement that the millions of Jews who were gassed found relief in knowing they were about to be murdered is outrageous and appalling," he said.
"Whatever his position on offshore detention, drawing a disingenuous comparison between Nauru and the Holocaust is offensive and inaccurate."
Dr Bauert works as a GP in the Northern Territory but has been involved in assessing children on Nauru who need medical evacuations.
He later apologised on social media, saying the words that he used were "intended to reflect the writings of an eminent Jewish psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz".
Dr Bauert added "Auschwitz was a humanitarian disgrace", trying to distance himself from his earlier claim.
Labor's asylum farce no surprise
Comment by Anna Caldwell
Bill Shorten has been mugged by reality.
Faced with a barrage of security warnings, the prime ministerial hopeful had no choice but to blink in his standoff over medevacs.
But it is an indictment on Labor's grasp of the precariousness of Australia's border policy that the debate got this far.
We know 1200 asylum seekers died at sea on Labor's watch when they were last in power. The party's immigration management was a policy failing for the books.
And so what does it say for the judgment of those who were around in the days of Rudd/Gillard/Rudd that they would flirt with the idea of making it easier for anyone to get to the mainland?
What were Chris Bowen or Tony Burke - men who oversaw the immigration portfolio under the old Labor government and dealt first-hand with the horrors of deaths at sea - thinking as the party contemplated a back-to-the-future approach?
Seasoned Labor political operators should have known that following fairies to the bottom of the Wentworth garden in pursuit of the Left vote - or simply in a bid to humiliate the government - would lead to political pain.
Contemplating a lurch to the Left on borders has also risked tearing open old wounds and divisions in the party over the treatment of asylum seekers.
Mr Shorten and his office were always privately sensitive over the perception they were soft on borders.
When The Daily Telegraph broke the story late last year that the government had legal advice the Bill would allow criminals into the country, Labor furiously claimed it was wrong.
And yet yesterday Mr Shorten said he wanted the Bill toughened so that the definition of national security also covered serious crime.
These are the actions of a party that had its head in the sand over the impact of a Bill it was supporting.
The writing was on the wall for this backdown all along.
How to GetUp close and personal to voters
by Clarissa Bye
Left leaning group GetUp! is schooling volunteers into becoming professional activists with sneaky tips on how to convert people to their cause such as "avoiding dry facts".
The group, which is campaigning against Federal Government MPs such as Tony Abbott by doorknocking and phone canvassing in Warringah, tells members to "act natural" despite highly-detailed scripts and "ask questions which can't be answered with yes/no" to keep people on the phone.
On Monday night, the organisation held a national "Persuasive Conversation Skills Workshop" via videoconference, where participants were given tips on "how to change minds" by using personal stories instead of "facts, opinions or arguments".
Campaigners from the US explain in videos shown to the group that: "If you're in the world of facts, opinions or arguments, it's probably not gonna work."
Instead "deep canvassers" need to have "deep personal conversations" when ringing or doorknocking to push their cause.
"In order to shift enough votes to un-elect the hard right MPs we're targeting, we need to have more conversations and more persuasive conversations than ever before," workshop organiser Shaun Murray said in his call to arms.
GETUP! CHEAT SHEETS
● Ask open questions (which can't be answered with yes/no) to encourage people to talk.
● Jot down some of the phrases you hear the callee use and reflect this back to them in the conversation.
● Introduce the issue and find out what they think about it. This could include 'agitating' to get them revved up and connected to their anger or sense of injustice about the issue.
● Say things in your own words so you sound natural and try not to sound like a salesperson from a call centre.