I've just returned from Parliament House, and I wanted to let you know exactly what happened.
Yesterday, Scott Morrison's Government played games in the Senate and then fled the House of Representatives – leaving their entire policy agenda behind – to avoid a bill that would compel Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to transfer children, their families and anyone elsein need of medical assessment and treatment from Manus and Nauru to care in Australia.
But the Morrison Government's cowardice didn't stop Senators from an extraordinary coalition of conscience. They voted hour after hour after hour, up against a filibuster from the Government, Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi on the final day of sitting for 2018, to push the #KidsOffNauru legislation through the Senate.
But the final Senate vote came one hour too late. By the time it had passed, the Morrison Government had already shut down the House of Representatives and literally fled the building.
It was a bittersweet moment. But this legislation will still be waiting when the House of Representatives returns in February – and it will pass. When it does, within 48 hours of it becoming law, we will see the kids and their families off Nauru, and emergency flights of critically ill men and women from offshore detention touch down in Australia.
But, to come within one hour of passing a bill that would have brought children and critically ill people from Manus and Nauru to Australia BY SUNDAY was absolutely heartbreaking.
Newly elected Dr Kerryn Phelps, who drove this Bill through in the first fortnight of her Federal career, slumped back in her chair as the Bill passed the Senate but the lights were already off in the House.
These same scenes repeated themselves as Senators left the chamber. Senator Tim Storer who tabled the Bill, having worked night after night to finely balance competing considerations across the political spectrum, had his head buried in his hands.
But the thing I most wanted to tell you, was that in that same moment that our politics most failed us, the incredible potential of politics and our democracy was also at its most evident.
The extraordinary events of yesterday happened because politicians of principle genuinely listened to the people-powered movement in Australia, and the voices of those still detained. Politicians who knew that the treatment of those on Manus and Nauru isn't about left and right – it's about right and wrong.
I watched the Australian Greens Senators huddle anxiously together outside the Chamber door (with Adam Bandt actually running across from the House of Representatives), trying to find a way through the Government's filibuster. They knew they were just inches away from saving the lives of those in offshore detention, whose rights they had defended for decades.
Greens Immigration spokesperson Senator Nick McKim stood shoulder to shoulder with Senator Storer to table the bill, working tirelessly with people from across the political spectrum hoping for a win especially for the oft-forgotten adults. As, McKim exited the Senate when it was all done, close to tears, all he could say was:"How can I tell those people in the camps they have to wait another three months for treatment, when they needed it yesterday."
I watched the women of the House of Representatives crossbench, Rebekha Sharkie, former Liberal MP Julia Banks, and Cathy McGowan embrace Dr Phelps and her Bill. They also stood in their own right to argue in different ways for a sensible solution to the medical crisis that has enveloped the children, and the adults in offshore detention.
I watched Senator Derryn Hinch forced to battle Twitter trolls from his Senate seat, remaining emphatic that he stood with all kids, including those detained offshore – even as the Morrison Government cynically dangled legislation he had long fought for to entice him over to their side. He sat alongside Centre Alliance Senators Griff and Patrick, both weary and indignant at the antics of the Government playing with Parliamentary procedure to avoid following the clear desire of the Australian public to get kids off Nauru, and follow doctors' orders with the women and men.
There stood Andrew Wilkie and his staff, biting their nails as they watched the Senate filibuster and then the House of Representatives clock. Wilkie had put the initial #KidsOffNauru Bill forward in the House months ago, but had graciously worked with everyone else to help draft a new Bill and find a new pathway through the Senate to ensure it become law. He stood repeatedly in the House this week, as he has done for years and years, arguing for justice for the people detained in our name.
And then, after so long of being ripped apart on this issue, I watched the Australian Labor Party. Penny Wong, on her feet for hours at the table in the Senate, stabbing her finger in righteous fury at the Government's dirty tricks. Their Senators determined to hold, in the face of fear-mongering Government speeches about boats and borders, to the fundamental tenet that sick people should never be denied treatment. When Opposition Leader Bill Shorten stood before snapping cameras and said kids should be off Nauru late last night, he stood for the work of a united Labor caucus led by Shadow Immigration Minister Shayne Neumann, which went back and forth for months between lawyers, doctors and internal champions – intent on finding the way through, even from Opposition, to finally address the medical crisis offshore.
What I saw yesterday was a coalition of conscience emerge. And it renewed my faith in the promise of our politics.
I watched this coalition of conscience come together and come within one hour of delivering a historic defeat to a cruel Government which has let 12 people die on their watch in offshore detention.
I saw politicians put aside party and ego. I saw them work together the way we always want them to. I saw them sneaking BBQ Shapes just off the Senate floor, because the filibuster meant they hadn't eaten since 7am. I saw their faces crumple as they realised children would be spending another 3 months in detention, because the Government had thwarted them on timing. I saw them shake off the despair and go out with a grim smile for the media. And I saw them promise, on national television, that they would be waiting, when the Parliament returns on the 13th of February, to finally deliver care and safety to those offshore, and pass this Bill before the House so it becomes law.
That's why I wanted to write to you right now even though the words aren't polished and I'm still in my pyjamas. Because I want you to know that yesterday showed us that this fight is still worth it. I want you to know that every email you send, every phonecall you make, every protest you attend – it's all worth it.
Because while politics created the cruel offshore detention regime, it can also break it.
Stay tuned for next steps. Because this movement won't just sit waiting for February. We're going to keep fighting, every step of the way alongside those people detained in our name. And now we know that we will win.
Yours in hope,
Shen and Renaire for the GetUp! team
Ps. The Government's going to come for this coalition of conscience before February. With Dutton's usual lies about boats and brown men and what-not. We must be ready to fight back.