Prime Minister Scott Morrison saw red on Thursday as he blasted Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and accused him of trying to “erode Australia’s strong border security” amid a row over changes to offshore detention legislation.
Speaking during a press conference at Parliament House, Morrison labelled the Labor leader a “clear and present threat” to the country’s safety after Shorten sided with the Greens and key crossbench MPs over proposed amendments to Home Affairs legislation to allow for faster medical treatment for refugees on Manus Island and Nauru.
“This is about Australia’s national security,” Morrison said. And 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.”
The bill at the centre of the drama was introduced by MP Kerryn Phelps and, if passed into legislation, would give doctors the authority to order the medical transfers of sick asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru, which Morrison warned would “completely crumble offshore processing”.
Morrison added: “Labor want to abolish offshore processing as we know it. They have learned nothing when it comes to what it takes to protect our borders in this country.
“I will fight them on this… and I will fight to stop any change to that offshore processing arrangement.”
Our Government will always work to keep Australians safe. Today, Labor have been trying to erode our strong border security while delaying important anti-terrorism laws. They haven't learned from the last time they were in Government and we will do everything we can to stop them. pic.twitter.com/bRLD2djDT3
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) December 6, 2018
The motion was scheduled to be debated at 12.45pm in the Senate with independent Senator Tim Storer set to introduce the disputed amendment during that debate. Labor, the Greens and several crossbenchers will then see it pass before it is moved to the House of Representatives once question time has concluded around 3pm.
And tensions were high on Thursday as Morrison’s government tried to avoid the bill getting to the House of Representatives, on the last sitting day of parliament before it breaks for Christmas, with speculation rife that the government may even suspend parliament to avoid a predicted humiliating defeat, delaying the vote until next year.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann attempted to adjourn the debate but was defeated 32 to 30. If the matter does to make it to the Lower House today and the Government is defeated, it would mark the first time the Government has lost a vote on legislation in the House of Representatives since 1929.
According to The Guardian’s political editor Katharine Murphy, if the Coalition lose on numbers it could be “interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the government of the day”.
I urge the Prime Minister to stop playing politics and start showing some leadership.
— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) December 6, 2018
Following Morrison’s attack, Shorten took to Twitter in response to the PM and said: “I’ve always taken the view that when it comes to keeping Australians safe, we are all in this together. I urge the Prime Minister to stop playing politics and start showing some leadership.”
He added: “I’ve co-operated with three different Liberal Prime Ministers over the last five years to improve, amend and pass 15 sets of national security legislation. I’m disappointed by the Prime Minister’s behaviour today but I won’t be distracted.”