Immigration policy is a key part of the Turnbull government’s agenda if it is to survive. The government will today attempt to enact amendments that would strengthen citizenship requirements under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007. This issue touches sensitive nerves on the left and increasingly divides both the Labor and Greens base. Reopening the immigration debate might be just what the government needs to move on from recent partyroom infighting.
As parliamentary debate resumes on the above immigration and citizenship changes it is also becoming clear the issue will be controversial. Bill Shorten has announced he will oppose the changes, probably his greatest political miscalculation this year. Thus far the debate has been overshadowed by same-sex marriage, allowing the Labor Party to stay beneath the parapets on citizenship. The increased residence requirements and good character checks will be popular. The longer and more controversial this debate, the costlier it will be for the leader of the opposition.
Greens Senators have already accused the government of having blood on its hands following the recent death on Manus Island. The inmate in question, Hamed Shamshiripour, was a 31-year-old asylum seeker from Iran with a history of mental illness. This comes on the back of the transcript of the Prime Minister’s phone call with Donald Trump being made public. The issue of vetting the remaining inmates is farcical at best. The leaked transcript at least gave further weight to the idea that Malcolm Turnbull is committed to maintaining the status quo on border protection.
The Prime Minister can’t afford to cede ground on immigration to parties further to his right. In allowing such parties to fester and breakaway Turnbull has already broken the golden of Konrad Adenauer. When challenged by centrists the great post-war German chancellor simply reminded his countrymen the core goal of a conservative party is to starve the far right. If parties gain strength to the right of a traditional conservative party, it is the duty of that party to move sharply to the right to secure the government.
The situation is already so bad in Australia that MPs have, or are threatening to, abandon a sitting conservative government. The coalition needs unity and conservatives need a unifying cause and leader. It is heartening to see economic reform on the agenda today along with immigration. Legislation is scheduled for debate that would see the Turnbull government finally implement its Enterprise Tax Plan. The reforms aim to slowly extend the lower 27.5 per cent company tax rate to all entities by 2023-24; a clever delaying tactic as no voter believes the opposition will allow a fall to an eventual 25 per cent company tax rate. Indeed, the Labor Party has already announced plans to oppose the reforms.
Turnbull is an Adenauer-type figure; he is not really a conservative at heart. If he is to win he needs to follow the golden rule on same-sex marriage, immigration and citizenship, and on tax reform.
The social liberals on the right tend to be wealthy and have nowhere to go; the natural home of the Australian Christian Lobby (despite yesterday’s threats) is within the Coalition; the natural home of One Nation voters should also be within the coalition. Malcolm Turnbull can either be the failed Prime Minister, or he can become the acceptable face of Australian conservatism. Only time will tell.
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