Scott Morrison will launch the second arm of his re-election pitch on Monday by claiming superior national security credentials, while Labor wrestles internally over whether to support a bill by independents allowing the transfer of asylum seekers to Australia for medical treatment.
At the same time, Labor leader Bill Shorten will today declare the election to be a “referendum on cleaning up the banks” after Defence Minister Christopher Pyne confirmed there would be no substantial legislative response to the Hayne royal commission until the second half of the year, beyond polling day.
Labor wants to keep the focus on what it believes is the government's weak spot – the banking royal commission – and is seeking to marshall seven crossbench votes this week to force extra parliamentary sittings in March to start dealing with the recommendations of the royal commission.
At this stage it has the in-principle support of six and Bob Katter is not ruling it out, despite accepting $234 million in water project grants for his electorate last year in return for not voting against the minority government in such motions.
Mr Pyne dismissed the attempted recall as a stunt.
"To change the laws around financial services and respond to the banking royal commission in the way that we wish to will take about 40 different pieces of legislation, so trying to do that in a rushed job to fulfil a political stunt that the Labor party is trying to pull is no way to govern," Mr Pyne told the ABC.
But Labor insists some recommendations can be implemented straight away, including ending grandfathered commissions for financial advisers, banning the hawking of superannuation and insurance products, extending unfair contract terms to insurance, and a crackdown on junk funeral insurance policies as the low-hanging fruit that can be speedily legislated.
Mr Shorten said Mr Pyne's dismissal of scheduling extra time was a fresh insult for banking victims.
"There could be no greater proof that the government remains determined to protect the banks than the admission it would be at least six months before they legislate the recommendations," Mr Shorten said."This is another disgraceful blow to Australians who have lost their lives and livelihoods at the hands of the banks – and the government can't even see what an insult it is to the people of Australia."
Parliament's first vote on a royal commission recommendation – to end grandfathered commissions – could come from an amendment to a government bill introduced by Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick from July next year, six months sooner than the government's proposal. While Labor wants an immediate end, it could support the amendment.
Two weeks after he used his first speech of the year to focus on the economy, another Coalition strength, the Prime Minister will seek to exploit Labor's conundrum on border protection and try to unravel its poll lead.
Coalition sources confided that if the polls begin to tighten, the government believes it can sow discontent within Labor over policy areas that are awkward for it, such as border protection and even the franking credit crackdown.
In a speech to the National Press Club today, Mr Morrison will claim the mantle on security, including border protection, pushing back at Chinese influence in the region, keeping children safe from cyberbullying, protecting women from domestic violence, and boosting defence spending
The speech will coincide with Mr Morrison and Mr Pyne finally signing the strategic partnering agreement with Naval Group to manage the $50 billion submarine project, a contract which had been delayed because of several spats during negotiations.
On domestic violence, Mr Morrison will pledge $60 million for emergency accommodation for battered women and children, and another $18 million to bolster state government services.
Parliament resumes on Tuesday for one of the last sitting sessions before the election and the government has pulled out all stops to try to block the passage of a bill, sponsored by independent Kerryn Phelps, which would enable doctors to approve the transfer to Australia of detainees on Manus Island and Nauru for medical treatment.
The government could veto a transfer on national security grounds but not character.
If the bill was passed, it would be the first legislative defeat for a government in the House of Representatives since 1929. When Parliament last sat in December, the government filibustered to block the vote on the bill which had the requisite support of Labor, the Greens and six crossbenchers. Bob Katter was opposed.
But pressure has been brought to bear over summer with the government claiming the bill's passage would weaken border protection laws, an Achilles heel for Labor. Last week the government even declassified ASIO advice which backed this claim.
Labor has begun to waver and could consider a backdown compromise offer by Mr Morrison which would seek expert medical opinion but leave the government with the final say in all cases.
Mr Shorten and his senior shadow ministers will be briefed by security officials today and then shadow cabinet is expected to make a decision.
Sensing an opportunity to unravel Labor's poll lead, Mr Morrison will hammer this issue in today's speech.
"As the architect [of Operation Sovereign Borders], I know what compromise and poorly thought-through change can do to this policy. Labor proposes to do both, again. They have learned nothing from their failures," his speech notes say.
He said that to stop people smuggling, the government had denied permanent residency and citizenship to boat arrivals and maintained regional processing which Labor reintroduced in 2013.
If Labor supported the Phelps bill, "it will abolish regional processing as we know it".
"Operation Sovereign Borders has worked and delivered a human dividend that is compassionate and fair," he will say.
"Our plan is simple. We won't change it. Labor will."
Mr Pyne claimed that if a boat arrived between now and the election, it would be Labor's fault. This earned swift rebuke from Opposition immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann.
"Labor has always had two clear objectives – making sure sick people can get medical care, and making sure the minister has final discretion over medical transfers," he said.
"Labor has great respect for our national security agencies and we've always worked co-operatively with them. While the Liberals leak national security information, we listen to it.
"The Liberals have sunk to a new low by threatening to let the boats start again. They are walking, talking billboards for the people smugglers and they should be ashamed of themselves.
"Labor will never let the people smugglers back into business."
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