Filibustering tactics put both encryption and Nauru bills on ice until 2019

06 December 2018 13:52 Australia Desk

A protracted Senate debate on the Nauru bill has run down the clock on the last day of parliament, with the government’s encryption laws also unlikely to pass this year.

The last day of parliament 2018 has been dominated by filibustering and tactics that will likely see two hotly-anticipated pieces of legislation fail to pass before MPs leave Canberra for the long Christmas break.

The Greens, Labor and crossbench succeeded in passing amendments on medical transfers for asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island in a 31 – 28 split in the Senate.

But the bill did not pass until 4.50pm, after a long day of protracted debate and accusations of a government filibuster.

With time running out, the government and conservative crossbenchers moved nearly a dozen amendments on the Nauru bill that were each defeated in turn.

“This government just gave up,” leader of opposition business Tony Burke said.

Because the Nauru bill was changed in the Senate, it needed to pass the Lower House again before it became law.

But by the time the Senate debate was over, the House of Reps was wrapping up for the day – and for the year, with parliament not due to return until February 2019.

Encryption laws also likely on hold

The government’s controversial encryption laws, which would give intelligence agencies new powers to force tech companies to help them crack encrypted devices, passed the House of Representatives with the support of both major parties earlier in the day.

Labor and the Coalition had agreed on key amendments – but Labor then said the 50 pages of changes did not do enough to implement the recommendations of the cross-party Intelligence committee.

If any of those changes were to win the support of the Senate, where a large crossbench made the prospect likely, this bill too would need to return to the House of Reps.

Labor attacked the government for not extending the sitting hours so both matters could be dealt with.

“They are walking out on a job half done because they are so frightened of the crossbench and Labor,” deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek said.

“They are prepared to endanger national security, by their own measure, because they are so frightened to do the right thing by refugees on Nauru.”

Meanwhile, the government accused Labor of holding the encryption bill “hostage” to secure a win on asylum seekers.

“If Labor holds the encryption bill as a hostage in the Senate for their cheap political games on border protection, it is on their heads,” defence minister Christopher Pyne wrote on Twitter.

“We will not be waiting for the Senate to pass superfluous amendments on the encryption bill.”

The government had repeatedly argued it was vital to pass the encryption laws before the holiday period, when intelligence agencies said they would come in handy to deal with an annual spike in terror threats.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said he was “bitterly disappointed” that the encryption laws were doomed to sit on the books until February.

The laws could only still pass on Thursday if the Senate waves through the legislation without any further changes.

Labor circulated five amendments in the Senate on Thursday evening. If any one of them gets up with the support of the Centre Alliance and independent senators, the bill cannot pass until Febrary 2019 at the earliest when the House of Reps resumes.

The most significant of the changes are a narrower definition of "systemic weakness" and tougher judicial oversight on the new powers.

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