“Scott Morrison is now the most powerful person in the Australian government. The passage of the migration and maritime powers legislation amendment (resolving the asylum legacy caseload) bill 2014 has given the immigration minister, while he holds that job, unprecedented, unchallengeable, and secret powers to control the lives of asylum seekers.” – Ben Doherty for The Guardian 1
The very early hours of this morning were some of the darkest in Australian political history.
Just a little before 1am, the Migration and Maritime Powers Bill passed by one vote, with Senator Ricky Muir finally caving to some of the most intense and despicable emotional blackmail that the Parliament has witnessed.
He was visibly anguished, saying “I am forced into a corner where I have to decide between a bad decision and a worse decision – a position I would not wish on my worst enemies.”
It’s difficult to blame Senator Muir for his decision once you learn just how Minister Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott emotionally blackmailed him into giving his support.
Minister Morrison, in a political move that must go down in history as one of the most despicable abuses of power in Australian history, quite literally used desperate kids in detention as human hostages. It’s a story that’s so disgusting, so emotionally manipulative, that it’s hard to believe: it is being reported that our Immigration Minister actually used the children he had been keeping locked up, having them call Senator Ricky Muir and beg him to support the Bill and set them free.2
As Refugee Council of Australia’s Phil Glendenning said on ABC News today, the choice some of these Senators faced was essentially “Sophie’s Choice” in action.
There were some outcomes that are definitely a step in the right direction, and they were the result of the public and political pressure GetUp members helped bring to bear – a promise to increase humanitarian intake to nearly 18,750 and releasing children from detention on Christmas Island. But those “sweeteners” came at quite a cost.
It takes a brave politician to stand up against the tactics we saw used last night – tactics that Senator Xenophon and the Palmer United Party both inexplicably folded to and then celebrated – but in situations like this it’s really important that we let our deserving leaders know we’ve got their backs. The Senators who stood up in the face of intense dirty lobbying and appealed to their opponents’ better sides through powerful statements and admirable courage deserve our thanks. That’s why we’re sending thank you cards to all the senators who voted against the bill – this battle may have been lost but the fight isn’t over, and we must help them stand their ground.
Will you sign the thank you card we’re sending to all senators who voted against this bill? https://www.getup.org.au/thanks-senators
The children Minister Morrison used as political pawns in his power play are children who, the evidence shows, have been victims of sexual and physical abuse. They’ve been languishing in horrendous conditions for over 15 months. They’re desperate to be free – and Scott Morrison knew it. In fact, instead of using them as bargaining chips, he could have released them at any time. Same goes for raising humanitarian intake and giving people on bridging visas working rights. But he was waiting for this moment so he could emotionally blackmail some well intentioned Senators, and make them feel they had no choice.
As Jacqui Lambie said: “These kids have been in there for 15 months and you want a pat on the back? You’ve got to be kidding yourselves.”
It’s a terrible story. A shocking abuse of power. A Bill that should never have passed, and almost didn’t but for Morrison’s dirty tactics. But there’s hope — and it’s our movement that is going to be there to take this fight to wherever it needs to go until there is justice for asylum seekers and refugees in Australia.
We’re still waiting for all of the amendments to be made public and for the legal and real-life scenarios for refugees to become more clear, but in the meantime, even before an in-depth analysis is done, some things are already clear: this Bill gives unprecedented, unbelievable and undeserved power to Minister Morrison, which is exactly what he was bargaining for.
The downright abhorrent way in which the lobbying for this Bill was handled by some of our most senior Government officials makes it difficult to find any silver linings. But there are some, and in the interest of fairness and accuracy we have detailed some of the good, bad and the ugly at the bottom of this page.
We’re not going to sugar-coat what happened last night. It was ugly. But our movement has been lighting the dark throughout this entire year – turning out in our thousands, providing hope when it seemed lost, finding innovative, creative and inclusive ways to campaign for small advances during difficult times — like journalists funded to let them tell the truth, vigils attended by over 20,000 people, thousands of calls to Senators and MPs, petition deliveries at electorate offices, and just this week, a petition of over 100,000 delivered directly to the Senate.
And we’re not going anywhere. Already more than 4500 GetUp members have made their New Year’s resolutions and pledges to take the fight into the new year for a better way forward on asylum seekers. If you haven’t made yours yet, you can here: www.getup.org.au/take-action
With hope for a better way forward,
Erin, Alycia, Kelsey, Sally and Aurora for the GetUp team
PS – It’s not just politicians who played this dirty game. It’s worth mentioning that Paris Aristotle — the man behind advocating for the “no advantage” law, and who shares some responsibility for the 30,000 “legacy caseload” — was reportedly working in cahoots with the Coalition, advocating for the passage of this Bill too.
PPS – A new video3 released today by the Maurice Blackburn law firm details one of the more depressing aspects of this week’s news: as early as tomorrow, 44 children, including 25 babies born here in Australia, will be flown to Nauru to suffer offshore – out of sight, out of mind. We will be fighting for those children in the coming weeks, as we work with partner groups to provide you with as many tangible, effective, creative and helpful ways to support refugees and asylum seekers as possible. Watch this space for our exciting next efforts, and stay tuned for a powerful video soon.
1’Senate gives Scott Morrison unchecked control over asylum seekers’ lives’, Guardian Australia, December 5 2014.
2’Sarah Hanson-Young – The Minister is a Sociopath’, Greens MP, Youtube, December 4 2014.
3’A message to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, Youtube, December 5 2014.