Asylum-seeker gambit to test message

Asylum-seeker gambit to test message, by Simon Benson.

Scott Morrison has gambled that it is politically safer to offer concessions on the medical treatment of asylum-seekers than it is to face defeat on the floor of parliament on a matter so grave.

It is a strategic decision with significant risk.

The path he has chosen will test the Coalition’s credibility if it is seen as a capitulation on border security under threats by Labor and the Greens. On this issue the stakes are high. Border protection is and has been one of the few distinct points of policy difference between the Coalition and Labor.

Conservative voters expect a Coalition government to remain steadfast and call Labor’s bluff.

The Prime Minister will argue that his decision to establish an independent medical review panel of eminent doctors to oversee departmental decisions on refugee transfers is a reflection of increasing community concerns about the mental health of detainees.

This is partially true.

He will also, again rightly, argue that his model is a world away from Kerryn Phelps’ bill as it will retain ministerial oversight.
Labor is essentially backing a bill that would strip the government of any say in bringing asylum-seekers and their families to Australia on medical grounds. Morrison’s claim is that national security would be contracted out to two independently appointed doctors.

But Morrison may not win this argument easily. There will be those who see the move as being motivated by necessity rather than belief. There is no pretence in its design. The tactical play is to win over independent Cathy McGowan, whose vote may determine the government’s fate.