Indefinite desperation

The desperate Opposition wants to reignite last year’s racist moral panic over the release of human beings who have served their time

Here we go again. For the third day in a row, the Coalition has sought to make Question Time all about the release of 149 people from immigration detention, after the High Court last year ruled that it was not legal to lock them up indefinitely. It comes after the Department of Home Affairs revealed on Monday that seven of those released were previously convicted of murder or attempted murder, but that none had yet been locked up again under the draconian “preventative detention” laws that the Albanese government rushed through in December at the behest of the Coalition. (Reminder: people convicted of crimes are regularly released after doing their time.) The Coalition has this week directed nonstop questions to Immigration Minister Andrew Giles, peppering him with query after query about the “criminals”. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times Giles, the Opposition’s new favourite target, points out that these individuals are being monitored, or that it was not his decision to release them. After all, nothing really matters to the Coalition, not when there’s a chance to whip up a racist moral panic over refugees.

It’s little wonder the Coalition wants to turn the heat back on Labor, and especially Giles, a senior Labor Left figure. It’s taken the spotlight off Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who has serious questions to answer following the release of the Richardson Review, which found that Home Affairs, under his watch, had paid several companies linked to serious crimes to run offshore processing. Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has taken a few swipes at her predecessor this week, noting that the revelations didn’t exactly line up with “his reputation as a tough guy on the border”. But O’Neil can’t quite compete with the single-minded intensity of a Murdoch-backed Coalition that has found a dog whistle to blow with gusto. News Corp has been loyally echoing the Coalition’s attacks on Giles (or is it the other way around?), writing up report after report on the rather underwhelming revelation that 24 (out of 149) of those released have already been charged for visa breaches or offences. 

Liberal deputy Sussan Ley clearly felt she was onto a winner this morning when she declared that O’Neil, Giles and the PM should have “a date with the truth” for Valentine’s Day. But it’s the Coalition that needs to reassess its relationship with the truth here. Ley and co fully understand that they are hammering the government for following the law, for upholding a High Court decision that was both moral and long overdue, and which has not had the devastating consequences they and their media acolytes predicted.

The Coalition is no doubt growing desperate ahead of the looming Dunkley byelection. Dutton and his party have been humiliated on the Stage Three tax cuts: their discomfort with Labor’s broadly popular changes is clear, with several Opposition MPs today standing up to rail against the reforms they are about to wave through parliament. Australians seem to have resisted the shrieking panic over the “right to disconnect”, and the government is thus far holding firm against the Opposition’s taunts about negative gearing. It remains to be seen whether the Coalition will have much luck with this latest charade, as it once again seeks to turn immigration into an election issue, even when there’s no issue in sight.

“Parliamentary staff, like any other employees, should have the right to disconnect. Whether you’re in an electoral office or a ministerial office, you should be able to switch off from work.”

Community and Public Sector Union secretary Melissa Donnelly says even political staffers have the right to disconnect, flagging the union’s plans to use new laws to push back against unreasonable workloads. It comes as the police union calls on Peter Dutton, himself a former cop, to dump a pledge to repeal the new right, calling it “shortsighted, disrespectful and wrong”.

“Hello, what about Bob Hawke’s behaviour? Can we all accept that politicians are human, and sometimes make personal mistakes?”

Former Victorian Liberal MP Tim Smith – who famously resigned after drunkenly crashing his car into a suburban fence – defends Barnaby Joyce by citing a prime minister who actually gave up drinking upon entering parliament. National Party leaders have urged Joyce to take leave following his embarrassing late-night incident.

48 minutes

The average wait time for people calling Services Australia about employment services. The government says it has met its target of recruiting 3000 new staff, amid a backlog of more than 1 million unprocessed claims.

Economists call for a tax on fossil fuel production

Veteran economists Ross Garnaut and Rod Sims are calling for a fossil fuel production tax, arguing it could help fund the transition to renewables and lower the cost of living. Sims, the former head of the competition watchdog, told the National Press Club that “all Australians will clearly be winners from the levy, except, of course, fossil fuel producers, who need to pay for the damage their products cause”.

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