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Jacqui Lambie’s secret deal

Dec 6, 2019 • 16m06s

Jacqui Lambie says she has a deal with the government to repeal medevac. She won’t say what it is, and the government says it never existed.

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Jacqui Lambie’s secret deal

137 • Dec 6, 2019

Jacqui Lambie’s secret deal

[Theme music]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I'm Elizabeth Kulas. This is 7am.

As the parliamentary year ends and politicians go home for the summer. Scott Morrison is celebrating the repeal of Medivac. The key vote came from Jacqui Lambie. She says she has a deal with the government, but the government says otherwise. Paul Bongiorno on the end of another year in politics.

[Music ends]

[Phone rings]

ELIZABETH:

Morning Paul.

PAUL:

Yes, good morning, Elizabeth

ELIZABETH:

How are you?

PAUL:

I'm pretty good because it's the last week of Parliament. You know, it's sort of mayhem and it's all sorts of people were coming through the bureau to say goodbye and have a chat and all that sort of stuff, which is good from a contact point of view and all of that. But from the point of view of meeting deadlines, it was it was fraught. F-R-A-U-G-H-T.

ELIZABETH:

[Laughs]

PAUL:

It was the week when the Australian Parliament on the vote of one crossbench senator, enabled Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton to reverse what I'd call the shred of humanitarian decency...

ELIZABETH:

Paul Bongiorno is a columnist for The Saturday Paper.

PAUL:

...in the way we treated sick human beings imprisoned by our offshore refugee arrangements

ELIZABETH:

Yeah, I mean, obviously, Medivac was the big story this week. If we start with Peter Dutton and his reasoning for the repeal, what did he have to say about how Medivac affected the US resettlement deal?

PAUL:

Well, the home affairs minister said that the Medivac laws were undermining the United States resettlement deal. But he said because the Medivac arrangements allows people to come to Australia in a way that he describes as via the back door, he says it takes away the incentive for them to accept a relocation to the United States, which the figures, of course, don't support. I'd say it's a spurious claim because the Medivac law, in fact, gave Dutton as minister extensive powers to refuse a transfer. And the doctors that made the medical assessments were, in fact, appointed by him and belonged to his department. So he really did have full control of the situation, although he had to take more notice of the medical emergency.

ELIZABETH:

I mean, the other thing we have to point out here is that the Medivac laws never really talked about resettlement in this country or elsewhere. It was always only about medical treatment under strict conditions, as you say, were approved by the Department of Home Affairs, by Dutton's own department.

PAUL:

That's right. This wasn't resettlement. It was legislation that allowed asylum seekers to be brought to Australia for medical treatment under strict conditions before being taken back to offshore detention. The government talks a lot about back doors and hospital queues. But this legislation only existed to ensure that the government offered medical care to people who were in serious need and who couldn't be treated in the offshore camps where they were being kept. And doctors who had worked in these camps in these situations attested to this, which, of course, led to the original medivac laws being brought in.

ELIZABETH:

We all know by now, of course, that Jacqui Lambie was the crucial vote that got this over the line, allowed the government to repeal this legislation. Do we know why she did it?

PAUL:

Well, the Tasmanian independent told the Senate she had put to the government a proposal to work with me to secure my support, to repeal Medivac. Then things got very strange on Wednesday in the Senate.

Archival Tape -- Senator Cormann:

“Thank you, Mr. President. Mr President, I seek leave to move a motion to provide for the consideration of the Migration Amendment. Repairing Medical Transfers Bill 2019 for the remainder of today…”

PAUL:

Lambie was the crucial vote needed to repeal the law, as we say, which remember, was only passed at the beginning of the year after the coalition government lost its parliamentary majority. It was passed because the government was routinely ignoring medical advice to evacuate asylum seekers, which had contributed to the deaths of 12 people in offshore detention from otherwise curable illnesses and self-harm.

Archival Tape -- Senator Lambie:

“Thank you, Mr President. I'm quite sure there's many people known here. This has been a really hard decision for me to make. Sorry everybody for taking this long to make it, but we're getting there. Medivac isn't a national security threat, but there are real problems with the way it's operating. There are problems…”

PAUL:

Lambie told the Senate that she'd done a deal with the government, but she couldn't say what it was.

Archival Tape -- Senator Lambie:

“I put up to the government proposal to work with me on to secure my support for the passage of the repeal of Medivac. I'm not being coy or silly when I say I generally can't say what I proposed. I know that's frustrating to people. And I get that. I don't like holding things back like this, but when I say I can't discuss it publicly due to national security concerns, I am being 100 percent honest here. My hand is on my heart and I can stand here and say that I'm putting at risk Australia's national security and national interest if I said anything else about this.”

PAUL:

Well, Lambie told the Senate that she knew journalists assume and she's right about this, that everybody who refers to national security as a reason to keep something secret is a lying, cynical bum, she said. But she said she worked very hard with the government to get the outcome to keep the borders secure. In fact, I think we should just slow down and listen to the three things she said

Archival Tape -- Senator Lambie:

“We’d worked to an outcome I think we both want…”

PAUL:

that she'd worked with the government to keep the borders secure, one, the boats stop, two and crucially, three, and sick people not dying, waiting for treatment.

Archival Tape -- Senator Lambie:

“...and sick people aren’t dying and waiting for treatment…”

PAUL:

She said she was satisfied as a result of the hard work. The conditions now existed for her to allow Medivac to be repealed. So if you believe Senator Lambie, she put a proposal to the government to get a vote, but she can't tell us what it is.

Archival Tape -- Senator Lambie:

“...this is a matter of conscience. I can’t let the boats start back up and I can’t let refugees die whether it’s sinking in the ocean or waiting for a doctor…”

ELIZABETH:

And so was there a deal?

PAUL:

Well, not according to the government. They say there was no deal, secret or otherwise.

ELIZABETH:

We'll be right back.

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Archival Tape -- Unidentified:

“A business order of the day, number one: migration amendment. Repairing medical transfers…”

ELIZABETH:

So, Paul, we're talking about the repeal of the Medivac legislation. Jacqui Lambie says she did do a deal with the government. The government denies that there was a deal. Do we know who's telling the truth?

PAUL:

Well, Elizabeth, let me put it this way. Unless Jacqui Lambie is a complete fool and I don't buy that for one minute, she's clearly telling the truth. Mathias Cormann, the government Senate leader, tries to spin it. The government convinced her that her proposal, whatever it was, wasn't needed. But there's evidence to say that this argument is untrue. The Greens Richard Di Natale told the Senate that Cormann walked over to Lambie and one of the divisions and said to her. Is it okay if I say there's no deal?

Archival Tape -- Unidentified:

“There's a minute left. Senator Di Natale, Senator Di Natale--”

Archival Tape -- Senator Di Natale:

“We've just heard conflicting accounts, we had Minister Coleman say that there was no deal. Now, we've just heard Senator Lambie say there is a deal. Who's lying? Who's lying, Minister Coleman? Are you lying or is Senator Lambie lying?”

PAUL:

An angry Di Natale said: we heard you say it.

Archival Tape -- Senator Di Natale:

“In fact, you walked over to Senator Lambie and said ‘is it okay if I say there’s no deal’. We heard you say it.”

PAUL:

The emotions were running very high in this debate.

Archival Tape -- Senator Di Natale:

“Who’s misleading this parliament? Who on earth is misleading this parliament?”

PAUL:

He said someone is misleading the parliament on one of the most important pieces of legislation to come before it. Of course, it's legislation dealing with life and death of these vulnerable people.

Archival Tape -- Senator Di Natale:

“That may make the situation better or worse. We don't know. We simply do not know.”

PAUL:

Labor Senate leader Penny Wong said the government was treating the Senate and the people of Australia with contempt for asking senators to repeal a law while keeping the basis for the repeal secret. The Prime Minister too put the outcome down to Lambie being won over by better understanding what the government's policy is. He said Lambie had received extensive briefings from very senior officials deeply involved in these matters.

ELIZABETH:

And when Lambie says, you know, I'm talking about national security here. What is she talking about?

PAUL:

Well, as Scott Morrison was asked this at his news conference midweek and he said border security is national security. That's clearly what she means. She basically has bought the argument that desperate people, even on risking their lives on rickety boats, that they are a risk to our national security, which was always an absurdity. But she clearly has bought that argument.

ELIZABETH:

If there is a deal. What might it be?

PAUL:

Well, there was speculation that some part of Lambie's deal would involve resettlement in New Zealand for the refugees left in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru. One refugee advocate is sure this is part of Lambie's proposal. Another source told me Lambie was also given assurances that delays in medical transfers that saw 12 deaths before Medivac wouldn't occur again. There was a report in the Sydney Morning Herald and Age on Thursday that says Morrison, in fact, put his willingness to accept New Zealand's offer of resettlement after the United States process is completed in a letter to Lambie. I think proof of this and an indication of this is the way in which the Prime Minister answered questions at his news conference. I think it bears out these reports

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:

“Australian public are in no doubt about our government's commitment to strong borders…”

PAUL:

Morrison didn't rule out New Zealand as an option once the resettlement deal with the United States had been completed. He was directly asked if this was an option.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:

“Jacqui Lambie says there was a condition that she gave to you in order to get her vote to repeal for the Medivac laws. What is the condition?”

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:

“Well, I'm not sure what you're referring to in relation to her statements. I have her statements that are in front of me, and I don't read that in her statement at all.”

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:

“She’s given you a condition. So, will she be given any assurance that there was a New Zealand deal?”

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:

“She has the assurance that the government will implement its policies.”

PAUL:

The prime minister replied that the government seeks to resettle people who are on Nauru. He left the way open for a future consideration by merely saying about New Zealand. He was sort of locking it away almost...

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:

“Is it not a problem with the potential resettlement with New Zealand, given that we've got special visa requirements for special visa relationship with New Zealand?”

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:

“We’ve outlined the issues and the complexities and the difficulties of that arrangement in the past”

ELIZABETH:

Paul, thinking about Jacqui Lambie and what got her into politics. What's the best way to understand her?

PAUL:

Well, look, that's one of those questions that everybody loves to muse about. A crew member, Peter Costello, would say, do you want me to get into some psychobabble? But look, we know that one of the things that motivated her to get into politics was she as a veteran, felt that veterans were being treated very badly, that she as a veteran, was treated very badly, and she wanted to get into politics and shake it up from inside. And I think she understands now that she's in the Senate that if she's going to stay there as an independent and indeed a lone independent, she has to show her voters in Tasmania that she is their champion. And by the way, I mean, her default position, if you like, is conservative. She's only an independent because the Liberal Party didn't endorse her. So in a sense, she's got a bit of a bit of a point to prove there to the liberals. So I think all of that comes together to explain the Jacqui Lambie that we have today.

ELIZABETH:

And Paul, you know, overall, what kind of note is this for you know, for the government to end its parliamentary year on?

PAUL:

Well, as I said at the beginning of our chat to Elizabeth, for refugee advocates and for the 500 or so people still in offshore detention, it's a terrible end, a really ugly moment . For Morrison. He's hoping his medivac win will reassure his troops that he really does know how to get contentious bills through the parliament. However, his heavy emphasis at the last party room meeting on the need for the government to stay united really is an admission that not everything inside his party room bubble is as good as he would like

ELIZABETH:

Paul, thank you.

PAUL:

Thank you, Elizabeth. Bye.

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ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that five public service department heads will be axed and the number of government departments reduced from 18 to 14.
The education department will merge with employment, the agriculture department is to combine with the environment department and the communications and arts portfolio will be folded into the infrastructure and transport department. Morrison claimed cuts to departments was not about finding savings or efficiencies, but rather “better aligning” the public service.

And the United Firefighters Union of Australia has passed a unanimous resolution at its national council demanding a national approach to allow firefighting to operate seamlessly across state borders. The Union spoke out at parliament house demanding action on climate change with the union’s vice-president Mick Tisbury saying quote: "quite frankly, we're sick to death of our message being ignored."

7am is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow and Elle Marsh with Michelle Macklem. Brian Campeau mixes the show.

Erik Jensen is our editor.

Special thanks this week to Zasha Rosen.

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

If you’ve got a moment, please consider leaving a review for the show on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps new listeners find the show and that’s a huge help to us.

This is 7am. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. See you next week.

As the parliamentary year ends, and politicians go home for summer, Scott Morrison is celebrating the repeal of medevac. The key vote came from Jacqui Lambie, who says she has a deal with the government. She won’t say what it is, and the government says it never happened. Paul Bongiorno on the end of another year in politics.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Background reading:

Playing hide and seek on medevac deal in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow and Elle Marsh. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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137: Jacqui Lambie’s secret deal