This is the last week of parliament before the budget in April, and it promises to be dramatic. Today Labor and crossbench senators will grill bureaucrats over a contentious $423 million contract awarded to a security contractor on Manus Island. Follow all the latest news live.
THE MISTAKE THAT DOOMED HAKEEM
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin started today’s Senate estimates hearings by addressing refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi’s arrest in Thailand.
Mr Al-Araibi was detained when he arrived in the country for his honeymoon, after his native country Bahrain got Interpol to issue a red notice – an international arrest warrant which is not supposed to be used for refugees.
There are lingering questions about the role the AFP played in tipping off Thai authorities.
Mr Colvin said the AFP had delayed publicly responding to the case until after Mr Al-Araibi had been released.
He essentially blamed the Department of Home Affairs for the screw-up, saying it had not advised the AFP of Mr Al-Araibi’s visa status until after his arrest.
ASYLUM SEEKER SPAT CONTINUES
Scott Morrison went on 2GB radio this morning and continued the government’s attack on the medical evacuation policy.
“They sought to solve a problem that didn’t exist,” Mr Morrison said.
“The medical professionals are there. The children are off. What this is about, let’s make no mistake, is about shutting down offshore processing.
“That’s what Labor voted for. They did it with eyes wide open.
“If you had anywhere in Australia the ratio of medical professionals to people … I mean, there’s nowhere in the country to my knowledge that’s that concentrated. Not even in Wentworth!”
“We should open a detention centre there,” host Alan Jones interjected.
The Prime Minister said he didn’t want to reopen Christmas Island, but the Department of Home Affairs recommended it.
“I didn’t want to have to repoen the Christmas Island detention centre. I week ago I didn’t have to. I do today.”
Mr Morrison also spoke about the natural disaster in northern Queensland, saying it is far from over.
“The reconstruction effort is going to be significant and it’s going to take a long time,” he said.
“It’s not an announcement today or next week, it’s the next two, five, 10 years.
“This will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more.”
GRILLING OVER MYSTERIOUS $423 MILLION
Much of the focus in politics today is on Senate estimates, where Labor and crossbench senators will grill bureaucrats over a contentious $423 million contract that was awarded to a security contractor on Manus Island.
A company called Paladin, which won the contract through a closed tender process, is reportedly registered to a beach shack at the end of a dirt road on Kangaroo Island.
It was given the tender despite not having enough money to start the contract – and despite its founder’s history of bad debts.
“It’s deeply concerning that we’ve had $423 million of your money going to a company which has got such a poor track record,” Labor senator Penny Wong said.
“I think the very biggest question to be answered is how on earth this tiny, unknown company with no track record ever gets $423 million in contracts from the Australian taxpayer,” Senator Murray Watt told ABC radio.
Peter Dutton’s Home Affairs department will also face scrutiny over its role in the months-long detention of refugee footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi, who was finally released by Thailand last week.
Mr Al-Araibi was arrested when he arrived in the country for his honeymoon.
There are lingering questions about the Australian Federal Police’s role in tipping off Thai authorities.
JENNY MORRISON’S ‘I TOLD YOU SO’ MOMENT
Scott Morrison’s wife Jenny has spoken to Nine, giving Australians a rare insight into the Prime Minister’s family.
Mrs Morrison alluded to a tantalising “I told you so” moment with her husband.
“Do you do that thing I’ve seen in interviews with other politicians’ wives where they get a sense about someone, and they go, ‘You wouldn’t trust that person, I’m telling you’?” Nine’s Helen McCabe asked.
“Yes I do,” Mrs Morrison replied, with a knowing chuckle.
“I think it gives you an insight when people are relaxed and they’re talking to you. They can say things that they don’t think people are listening to. I’m a bit of a listener.”
“Have you ever gone, ‘I told you not to trust that person’?” McCabe asked.
“I might have,” she said.
Mrs Morrison revealed she and her husband often disagree, but he “always listens” to her point of view. She is a registered nurse, so can give him a different perspective.
“We disagree on things probably a lot,” she said.
“He doesn’t make policy for me, I can assure you. But he’ll ask me maybe what I think, because I come from a totally different mindset. So he gets a different viewpoint from me, which might be very much a layperson’s viewpoint. And sometimes we’re not always on the same page.”
She said there was a softer side to the Prime Minister the public rarely sees, confirming Mr Morrison had cried about asylum seeker policy.
“That’s true. He’s sensitive about it, so I don’t know whether people, like — I think they have one view of him. But he never took any of those decisions lightly. And it might seem like he’s gung-ho, but you need someone tenacious sometimes to hold the line.”
Mrs Morrison spoke warmly of the time she hosted Harry and Meghan at Kirribilli House.
“When I had to greet them from next door and walk them in, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ I said, ‘I haven’t been here long.’ I said, ‘You know, this is all new to me.’ And she was like, ‘Tell me about it, it’s new for me too.’
“They were so lovely. He is very charming and he’s quite good-looking. Like in real life, he’s got very beautiful eyes.
“Meghan’s like, just stunning. She’s tiny. She’s got little tiny ankles and waist, but she’s very, very sweet.”
She admitted she had not predicted her husband’s sudden rise to the leadership, but said he had always had the potential in him.
“I was in shock. I was in total shock. I did not see it coming.
“I always knew Scott was capable of leadership. Not to say he was going to become leader. But he’s always been that kind of person all the way along. He’s strong and confident. People want to follow him. He’s a bit of a natural born leader.”
Finally, Mrs Morrison said life as the Prime Minister’s wife was more normal than many people would think — though she doesn’t see Mr Morrison as often as she’d like.
“I might be the Prime Minister’s wife, but I’m still a mum with two young girls, and I’m trying to keep things as normal as possible,” she said.
“I wake up at a quarter to six and have a shower, and get the kids’ lunch boxes ready, make sure they’re all dressed.
“Then we get in the car by no later than ten past seven. Otherwise it’s just chaos with traffic.
“You just do what you have to do. I think maybe people picture that your life as the wife of the Prime Minister is glamorous and amazing and exciting, but no I’m doing the same thing everyone else does.”
GOVERNMENT SURGES IN POLLS
The government has recorded its best poll result since former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was rolled.
The latest Ipsos poll, conducted for Nine newspapers, show last week’s bitter debate over refugee policy has been followed by a shift towards the Coalition, leaving it trailing by a margin of just 51-49.
This is starting to look like a trend. Last week’s Newspoll had the gap at 53-47, and before that, an Essential poll registered at 55-45.