Island changes could put borders under threat

Australia's border security is under threat from a Labor-backed push to remove crucial protections on medical transfers from asylum-seeker centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

Labor and a loose alliance of crossbenchers used critical new encryption laws aimed at preventing terror attacks as a political football in a tactic to force a vote on a plan that effectively hands control of offshore detention centres to a panel of healthcare professionals.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal the changes to border protection laws that Labor wanted rammed through Parliament risk giving an Iranian man entry to Australia who is facing charges on Nauru including threatening to kill.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to use every tool to make sure the proposal doesn’t “see the light of day”. Picture: Mick Tsikas
Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to use every tool to make sure the proposal doesn’t “see the light of day”. Picture: Mick Tsikas

An angry Prime Minister pledged to use every trick in the book to run down the parliamentary clock to make sure the changes that would "undermine our border protection laws never see the light of day".

In the process, proposed national security laws designed to catch terrorists and paedophiles secretly communicating with each other appeared doomed until Bill Shorten made a stunning 11th-hour surrender last night.

Mr Shorten reluctantly agreed at the last minute to abandon Labor's plan to amend the laws in the Senate - which would have blocked final sign-off until February 12 - as long as the government promised to make further changes next year.

The government committed to "facilitate consideration of these amendments in the new year in government business time". The backdown means laws to keep Australians safe will be in place over the crucial festive period.

Scott Morrison described Bill Shorten as “a clear and present threat to Australia’s national security.”
Scott Morrison described Bill Shorten as “a clear and present threat to Australia’s national security.”

The government was also able to postpone a vote on the extraordinary changes to the border protection laws until next year aided by conservative crossbenchers Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi, who led time-wasting tactics in the Senate. That prevented a vote from taking place in the House of Representatives, where the government faced an embarrassing and historic loss on the floor of Parliament.

Mr Morrison accused Labor of trading national security and border protection for a cheap political win.

"I will fight them using whatever tool or tactic I have available to me to ensure that we do not undermine our border protection laws," he said.

"Bill Shorten is a clear and present threat to Australia's national security."

The proposal gives a panel of healthcare professionals the final say on medical transfers unless the Immigration Minister can prove within 48 hours that a refugee is a security threat.

The Daily Telegraph understands a child was approved for medical transfer to Australia in September but has refused to leave without their father who was facing charges of damaging property and threatening to kill.

Under the proposed changes this man would likely be able to travel to Australia with his child.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said Labor was choosing politics over allowing security agencies the tools needed to protect Australia. Picture: Mick Tsikas
Attorney-General Christian Porter said Labor was choosing politics over allowing security agencies the tools needed to protect Australia. Picture: Mick Tsikas

The Greens, Labor and enough crossbench support secured its passage in the Senate but not in time to return to the House of Representatives which had already stopped sitting for the year.

Attorney-General Christian Porter accused Labor of choosing politics over giving our police and security agencies the tools they need to prevent terrorist attacks.

Mr Shorten accused the government of sabotaging dealing with encryption laws "because they were embarrassed about losing a vote to get kids off Nauru".

He said Labor would agree to the "inadequate" encryption legislation to give security agencies some of the tools they need.

"Rather than hang around and get it (encryption) right … they shut down the House of Representatives," he said.

"I don't want to go another two months, three months until the government come back to work and leave Australians at the risk of being exposed to security threats."

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the government had not honoured its pledge to make agreed changes to the encryption laws based on the advice of parliament's powerful intelligence committee.

He said that was why Labor needed to make amendments in the Senate.

"It is clear that they do not fully reflect the recommendations put forward by the committee," he said.

"The government already tried to cut off the committee's work before - it shouldn't ignore it completely."

But Mr Porter denied that the government had not made the necessary amendments and insisted Labor's changes went way beyond the recommendations.

The Labor-backed change would see health officials oversee the medical transfers of asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus Island. Picture: Mick Tsikas
The Labor-backed change would see health officials oversee the medical transfers of asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus Island. Picture: Mick Tsikas


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