How many words and column inches have been spent exploring the apparent consequences of the medical transfers bill this week? A bill that ultimately aims to deliver a little bit of humanity to refugees stuck in limbo for years.
On Tuesday, the bill passed the lower house, aiming to give urgent medical care to sick refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. It passed through the Senate on Wednesday and only applies to those currently languishing on the two islands.
We shared some words ourselves – notably to celebrate the women involved in securing the victory, which saw a government lose a vote on the house floor for the first time in 80 years. As Georgie Dent wrote, it took advocacy and leadership from women to finally help guarantee the delivery of urgent medical care to sick refugees.
But the passage of the bill also served to ramp up a toxic debate in Australian politics — as well as the fear-mongering and chaos we can expect to see and hear more of in the lead up to the Federal election in May.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said every “boat arrival will be on Bill Shorten’s head”. He said border protection “contingency plans” were being put in place due to the bill, and announced he would reopen Christmas Island to deal with the boat arrivals that will apparently now be on their way. He and his frontbenchers are talking up the bill as a great threat to border security. Facts about the legislation — including the point it only applies to those currently on Manus Island and Nauru — are being overlooked and ignored to keep this matter firmly on the agenda.
All these words in a week meant that other issues were easily and swiftly overlooked and ignored.
Like the data from NASA finding that the ten hottest years on record have occurred in the past two decades — and the hottest ocean levels were recorded in 2018. And the new research on rapidly declining insect populations, which scientists claim could signal catastrophic consequences for the Earth’s ecosystems. We also heard from ACT Parks and Conservation declaring climate change is narrowing the window of opportunity available to achieve back-burning targets. There were record-breaking floods in Northern Queensland and out of control bushfires in Tasmania.
Meanwhile, as a rabble of ministers competed for air-time in Parliament this week, climate protesters attempting to get their message heard were thrown out of the public galleries — one received a wave and a smile from Barnaby Joyce. Bushfire survivors also travelled to Parliament House to demand climate action.
And, perhaps in an attempt to actually get some attention, the Climate Council warned that climate change will disrupt Australia’s sporting calendar, given the frequency and severity of severe and extreme heat and weather events.
As Guy Rundle wrote this week, many of these big research stories on climate change quickly disappear from the agenda because they can be too big and difficult to contemplate. That might be true for parts of the general population, but should be no excuse for leaders and politicians. In Australia’s case, they are also too political to contemplate or even mention, especially with climate denialists and shock jocks standing in the way.
Also, we heard all these words on border security in a week that domestic violence got a rare mention from the PM — as if it’s now done and dusted — thanks to a measly $78 million injection by the Government over three years. That’s compared to the billions we’re spending on combating terrorism.
Sixty nine women were violently killed in 2018, and six have already been murdered in 2019.
And this week also the Closing the Gap report was released, showing minimal progress has been made on closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. There was some talk of it in Parliament, including that the current situation is “unforgivable”. But the agenda and discussion quickly moved on, much like it has with other such reports released.
This is the state of politics in 2019 — which is proving to be no better than politics in 2018 — and it looks set to hold more vitriol and scare-mongering than ever before, just not on the real issues that are terrifying.
Expect little but talk and blame and insults and plenty of hypocrisy now until the election in May (let’s hope we can at least expect less of the ‘smeared blood’ on Pauline Hanson’s office door following an altercation involving Brian Burston and James Ashby). Expect more filibuster-like moves, like what occurred yesterday, as the longest Question Time in history was recorded, with the Morrison Government attempting to avoid losing another vote.
Despite that record breaking question time, there was not a word of significance on the real terror and fear ahead.