Anthony Albanese has made a rare intervention in ALP caucus to back Bill Shorten’s contentious changes to a plan to allow for the medical evacuations of asylum seekers.
The compromise plan, which now threatens to test Scott Morrison’s control of Parliament, features three new amendments to allow the Home Affairs Minister more power to reject applications on character grounds and more time to consider applications, rather than a limit of 24 hours.
While supporting the changes, Mr Albanese stressed that detail of the plan to allow the minister more time to consider requests needed to be spelled out.
Crucially, the amendments also limit the medical evacuations to the existing group of asylum seekers who have languished on Nauru and Manus for over six years.
As a shadow minister, it is highly unusual for Mr Albanese to speak in caucus unless the matter relates to his portfolio. It is traditionally a forum for debate for backbench MPs.
However, shadow cabinet members said Mr Albanese was simply spelling out the agreed position of cabinet on the extension of the 24 hour rule, not demanding further changes.
Labor MPs told The New Daily on Monday night that Mr Albanese was one of three MPs who spoke on the compromise outlined by Mr Shorten in the ALP caucus.
The amendments were also backed by the Left’s Andrew Giles – who cautioned that the bill needed to pass Parliament this week – and Pat Conroy – who also raised concerns about the detail of the 24 hour rule.
Labor MPs last night said Mr Albanese’s intervention was a sign that Bill Shorten had mishandled the issue by not arriving at a clear position sooner.
“I don’t think there’s been a huge shift but there’s a perception that we have,” one Labor MP told The New Daily.
“Albo just explained something better than Bill, who had failed to do so,” another MP said.
Earlier, Mr Albanese said he would be advocating for a compassionate response on the medical needs of asylum seekers that Australia was “responsible for”.
“I’ll be bringing my values, which are that you can be tough on border security without being weak on humanity,” he said.
Mr Shorten’s policy shift followed a national security briefing on Monday over concerns about the legislation, which his three amendments are designed to address.
Labor’s shadow cabinet and ministry were then briefed on the proposed changes.
To carry the legislation in the House of Representatives, Labor needs to secure a simple majority – 75 votes – which will require the support of all six independents apart from Bob Katter who is opposed to the bill.
The Greens could still scuttle the legislation if they withdraw support.
The Greens on Monday night warned of concerns over giving Peter Dutton greater powers to refuse on character grounds.
“I am angry that Labor is once again caving in when it comes to refugees,” Greens MP Adam Bandt said.
The Greens will discuss the proposed changes at a party room meeting on Tuesday.
Underlining how tight the numbers are in the House of Representatives, the manager of opposition business Tony Burke announced that Labor will no longer offer pairs on votes that require an absolute majority of 76 MPs until the next election.
Labor will still allow for pairs on votes for legislation that requires a simple majority.
Mr Burke justified the decision on grounds it will stop the government using pairs to stop legitimate votes that require a majority vote. This would include, for example, bringing on debate on legislation such as the asylum seeker bill.
“By cancelling pairs the ALP are saying they won’t let any Member of the House of Representatives leave to attend to a sick family member or to get medical attention themselves,” Mr Pyne said.
“It’s unprecedented and the then Opposition never stooped this low even in the darkest days of the 43rd Parliament.”
Earlier, the Prime Minister warned that Bill Shorten will “unleash a world of woe” if he supports planned legislation to enshrine medical evacuations from Nauru and Manus in any form.
“They have no idea of the consequences of what they are playing with. They will unleash a world of woe again. How do I know? I’ve seen it before. And I never, ever want to see it again,” he told the National Press Club.