Without Barnaby Joyce on Q&A last night, you’d be forgiven for expecting a calm, level-headed, and po-o-o-ssibly slightly duller episode.
No, no, no. Because the controversial and often referred to as “draconian” Border Force Act, which passed with support from both Labor and the Coalition, was up for discussion.
And without Barnaby, only Labor’s Shadow Immigration Minister Richard Marles was there to answer to it. If you look closely, you can actually see his life flash before his eyes.
And no, that sheen of sweat did not let up.
The debate around asylum seekers, turning back the boats, and Labor and Coalition policies was already in full swing, when two doctors submitted a video question which well and truly handed Richard Marles the shovel he was to dig his own grave with.
Their question, directed at Marles, was:
Did Labor read the Border Force Act, and if so, why did you rubber-stamp this repressive law that turns advocacy into a criminal offence?
Let the games begin!
When faced to defend the indefensible policy that the Coalition brought in, but Labor definitely supported, Richard Marles’ heart probably skipped a beat. But he recovered with this lightbulb moment – let Labor be on the side of the people!
“Well, firstly we absolutely support transparency and it’s absolutely critical that doctors, nurses, lawyers, any contractor in a detention facility speak out when they see when there is something wrong, I mean that’s fundamental,” he says.
Next, he thinks, blood pressure increasing – I’ll bring up a different piece of legislation which will ease everyone’s concerns. Whistleblower legislation!
“People should understand in relation to the Australian Border Force Act, it makes it absolutely plain that the whistleblower protection … applies in this situation as well.”
When host Tony Jones asks if that means a whistleblower can go public without threat of prosecution, Marles replies: “Well that’s what a whistleblower does, absolutely.”
And here’s where journalist Greg Sheridan jumps in saying that it DOESN’T protect you, thereby igniting a ten minutes debate that can be accurately represented as such:
Wrong, says Sheridan multiple times, who seems to have taken the position of Lefty defender, filling the void left by Marles as he defends the Coalition. He also throws in a few “read the legislation” remarks, making it seem more and more like Marles only skimmed the cliff notes.
What is nailing it, however, is the Q&A seating arrangement. We’ve got Sheridan on the left, Marles on the right, and this guy on Twitter:
If Marles has read the legislation, he has not understood it. I have read it. He is wrong. #qanda
— Julian Burnside (@JulianBurnside) July 6, 2015
Julian Burnside is an Australian barrister, Order of Australia recipient, Queen’s Council, author, and human rights and refugee advocate, who’s spent plenty of time writing about the Border Force Act.
“What is really alarming about the Border Force Act,” he’s written before, “is that it shows the willingness of the government to suppress the facts connected with its brutal mistreatment of asylum seekers.”
But back to the unfolding drama in the Q&A studio.
Entering stage, er, centre, we have TONY JONES, sharpening his claws.
Tony: “If you attempt to take your complaint through an official channel, and you get the answer: ‘You can’t go public on this because these are effectively on water matters or in detention matters,’ what’s your next recourse? Can you then go to a journalist and let them know what’s happened?”
Richard: “I-i-i-i-if-if-you -“
Tony: “Without fear of prison?”
Richard: “That is absolutely right, and that’s our understanding. But let’s – i-i-i-if – I mean, if you want Labor’s view on this -“
Tony: “Why isn’t this the understanding of all these doctors?”
Richard: “Well – w-w-well – well -” And then Marles tries to throw the political hot potato to the government, shifting his language from saying people “can” speak up to they should “ought” to be able to speak up. HMMMMM. It’s a long argument calling for transparency from the government that I can’t be bothered to republish in full here, but rest assured the word ‘hopeless’ is used.
This is an accurate representation of Tony at this point, btw:
After a refreshingly sane and compassionate bit from Larissa Waters (who just seems like the loveliest person ever, kind of like a Miss Honey from ‘Matilda’ going into politics), we’re back into ROUND THREE.
This part’s a doozy, because Richard Marles actually finds himself in the position of defending the Coalition’s actions, because none of them are here to do it themselves, Barnaby.
Tony comes in for the kill over the Border Force Act, and Richard ~literally can’t even~.
Tony *licking his lips*: “You’re basically saying that the government got this right.”
Richard *heart racing*: “W-what I’m saying is that the government has a role to be out there and giving clarity and certainty -“
Tony *moving in*: “You’re saying that the government got this right, that the legislation is appropriate?”
Richard *sweating profusely*: “I do actually think that the doctors have got it wrong here. That’s my understanding -“
Tony *poised for kill*: “So the government got it right.”
Richard *sees life flash before his eyes*: “Well – uh – maybe.”
DING! DING! DING!
Tony Jones, master of getting a Labor MP to defend the Coalition’s legislation.
LOOK AT THAT SMILE!
You did it, Tony.
As amusing as it is to watch politicians squirm when questioned over this absolutely Orwellian law, going to such great lengths to keep the comings and goings of Nauru and Manus Island a secret is nothing short of disgraceful.
Where is the accountability? Honestly, open to suggestions here.