The ascension of Malcolm Turnbull has brought to a temporary halt a couple of the high-priority projects that marked the last, hysterical days of the Abbott government.
Take the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standing) Bill 2015. That’s the bill designed to gut the EPBC by preventing anyone not directly affected by a major project from having legal standing to challenge approvals, no matter how legally flawed they might be. It was put forward by Abbott as part of a plan to wedge Labor by portraying it as keener to side with “environmental militants” and “vigilante litigants” than with job-creation, and Labor was happy to take the bait and opposed it outright; when the bill reached the Senate, it was referred to a Senate committee, the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications, which because it’s a legislation committee, is controlled by the government (WA Liberal Anne Ruston is chair).
Given the apparent need to quickly close off the capacity of “vigilante litigants” (which don’t we just go all the way and call them “legal terrorists”?) to destroy jobs, you’d think a government-controlled committee would be eager to get the inquiry, due to report by October 12, going. But this week the committee suddenly postponed the hearing due to be held yesterday and three days of hearings next week. Postponed until when isn’t very clear. Perhaps the committee will have a better idea what it’s doing once the fate of a particular member is resolved: NSW Senator Arthur Sinodinos is a member, but likely to feature in some way in Turnbull’s ministerial reshuffle, despite the fact that his troubles with the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption aren’t yet fully resolved.
Then there’s the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 — or what’s left of it after the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security extensively remodelled it to address such basic concerns as having unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats overriding court decisions. That, too, was an important political bill for the Abbott government: with enthusiastic support from The Daily Telegraph, the government wanted to use the bill not merely to show how tough it was going to be on terrorism, but to paint Labor as, to use Abbott’s own words, “rolling out the red carpet for terrorists” because Labor preferred the idea of bringing terrorists back to Australia to prosecute and jail them rather than leaving them at large overseas.
Problem was, the bill split cabinet the moment it was brought forward without proper process by Abbott and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. But even after the JCIS gave a heavily modified bill the tick, Abbott and Dutton were eager to use it: they gave a drop to the Telegraph about the JCIS report and then (while pretending not to know what was in the report because it hadn’t been tabled yet) promised to rush the bill through Parliament.
“The government will carefully consider the committee’s recommendations and respond promptly,” Dutton said on September 4, after the JCIS report was released to people other than News Corp, and explained that the government “hopes to move forward with the legislation in the current session of Parliament”.
With Parliament rising yesterday until mid-October, there was no sign of the bill, or of the government’s response, or any of the urgency with which the Abbott government had introduced the bill. The need to get such important legislation through quickly in order to roll up the red carpet for terrorists has apparently evaporated.
Crikey asked Dutton’s office what was happening with the bill. We’re no fans of Dutton, but we can forgive his staff for not bothering to respond, given the possibility they’ll all be out of a job by Sunday afternoon.