While the terror laws will be in effect over the summer, it is now highly likely the divestment legislation will not be passed before the federal election in May, and not at all if Labor wins.
The government had hoped to secure the passage of the divestment legislation through the House of Representatives on Thursday, so it could be put to the Senate which sits for two weeks in February. But amid the chaos, the Senate voted to send the legislation to a Senate inquiry which will not report back until March 18, meaning the legislation cannot be considered before then.
That leaves just two days that Parliament will sit in budget week before the election is called. On those two days, the divestment bill must pass the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Parliament must also pass the budget bill on those two days,
As good as dead
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the legislation, which was vehemently opposed by business, the energy sector and free-market Liberals, was as good as dead.
“Appalling legislation and an appalling process,” he said.
“The government tried to rush this through the House without scrutiny and with minimal debate despite this having no chance of passing the Senate before April.”
The chaos began when Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers in both Houses agreed to add an amendment to an otherwise innocuous government bill in the Senate, to make it easier for medical transfers of children and sick asylum seekers to Australia.
Rather than the decision being made by the department, it would be made by two doctors with the minister having the final say.
The plan was to pass the amendment in the Senate from where it would go to the House of Representatives for approval. Labor, the Greens and the crossbench had the numbers in that House as well to adopt the amendment, meaning the government, had it opposed the amendment and lost the vote, would have been the first government since 1929 to lose a vote on legislation in the House of Representatives.
It would have been a humiliation but would not have forced a election.
In 1929, then prime minister Stanley Bruce had made it a matter of confidence and called an election the next day. His Nationalist government lost the subsequent election.
Mr Morrison refused to support the asylum seeker bill, saying it amounted to a weakening of border protection policy and would encourage the people smugglers to start up again.
“Labor want to abolish offshore processing as we know it, turn it into a transit lounge. They have learned nothing when it comes to what it takes to protect our borders in this country,” he said.
“Yes, the boats have not been arriving but you know, there is about 12,000 people sitting in Indonesia right now who would happily get on a boat if they thought they had the green light.”
The government spent the day dragging out the debate in the Senate. By the time the bill passed the Senate late on Thursday afternoon, the House of Representatives was adjourning for the year.
The government refused to extend the sitting hours of the House into Thursday night so it could approve the encryption legislation to which Labor wanted to make “technical amendments” in the Senate. This meant unless Labor backed down on its Senate amendments and just let the bill through as it did, the encryption laws would not have been passed until February.
Many amendments had already been made in the House of Representatives and the government argued those Labor wanted to make in the Senate were unnecessary..
Before Labor backed down, Mr Morrison said Mr Shorten’s decision to “play political games” posed a national security threat.
“This is not about politics, this is about Australia’s national security,” he said.
“Bill Shorten is a clear and present threat to Australia’s safety because he is so obsessed with politics, that he cannot see the national interest.”
Mr Shorten rejected this, saying Mr Morrison could have shown some humanity to those on Nauru and have his security legislation passed.
He blasted the government as ideologically bankrupt and morally abject for its stalling tactics and for not extending the sitting hours of the lower house.
“But [for] this government, apparently national security is only national security until 5 o’clock on a Thursday because the bad guys don’t worry about our national security – they all stop at 5 o’clock,” he said.
“They are more keen to be seen to maintain their political pride than either protect Australians or get kids off Nauru, or even deal with lower energy prices.
“This government should be ashamed of itself.”
With the encryption legislation, the government outlined 173 amendments that had arisen out of the intelligence committee process.
Labor complained they only had a few hours to study them, but agreed to pass the legislation through the lower house and make further amendments in the Senate which shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said were necessary to fully reflect the inquiry’s recommendations.
With a heightened terror risk over the Christmas period, police and security agencies have argued the laws are needed as soon as possible.
Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said: “Labor has chosen to allow terrorists and paedophiles to continue their evil work in order to engage in point scoring.”