Banking royal commission and boats: It’s going to be a wild few weeks in Canberra

But the pendulum swung back to disappointment for many this week when the commission’s final report didn’t name and shame lots of individuals and send them off to be prosecuted.

The best days in years for bank stocks only added to the sense of the banks being hit by a wet lettuce.

The royal commission gave the task of looking at prosecutions to the very regulators who it was castigating in the same report, and reserved its most scathing personal reflections to a banker whose sin seems to have been arrogance in the witness box.

Managing expectations and perceptions, let alone actual information, can be a complicated task at the best of times. But it is particularly complicated when a federal election is looming, and the federal Parliament is about to sit for the only seven days scheduled by the government since before Christmas, and until the budget is handed down on April 2.

Whatever the disappointments of the royal commission, it did produce a hefty 76 recommendations for change, which you would think would require some discussion by our legislators.

The government insists it has taken these recommendations up in full, and even added some changes of its own. Labor say the government has demurred on a number of crucial recommendations.

But can you seriously do anything about those recommendations – for example, legislate for them – in seven days? No.

This hands Labor a double win in political terms. It is arguing Parliament should be recalled for extra sittings. Of course it should discuss and act on the recommendations. But any legislative change is going to be complicated and take a while.

Labor though can both embarrass the government on its tardiness on the royal commission, and for its refusal to come to work.

Boat backflip? Not quite

The much more challenging issue for Labor and the government is what is to be done about the crossbench bill to put some decent processes in place for medical evacuations from Manus Island and Nauru.

Just as perceptions of the banking royal commission have swung about wildly, just consider all the changing messages from the government on asylum seekers in the space of just seven days.

It was only last weekend that it was sanctimoniously trumpeting how it had got all the kids out of detention.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Scott Morrison declared “we have been working quietly and methodically through this process without compromising the integrity of Operation Sovereign Borders”.

“We have got all the children Labor put in detention centres out”, he and Immigration Minister David Coleman said in a statement.

There was no reference to the fact that the majority of these children were medically evacuated after legal interventions which the government fought until September.

That was Sunday. By Monday, the government was doing an apparent backflip on the idea that doctors should be making the assessments about evacuations, a move that would hopefully appease the crossbench.

Though it turned out it wasn’t quite a backflip.

And then through the week, the leak of ASIO briefings which reportedly suggested that not only would the amendments let murderers, paedophiles and rapists into the country, but would lead to the collapse of the border protection regime, and to hundreds of people coming to Australia.

Implicit in the message has been the idea that the so-called Phelps bill is just a phony construct to get everyone out of offshore detention because doctors had too much “compassion”, as former prime minister Tony Abbott warned.

We seem to have moved on from the phase where the government was suggesting it might fall if the bill passed and into the most pragmatic assessments of who can be damaged politically by what happens to the legislation.

There is less talk of it being a threat, or even a humiliation for the government and more about the political risks for Labor if it passes.

That is, more talk about the political risk of leaving yourself open to accusations of being soft on border protection.

All hinges on independent MP Cathy McGowan, who both sides of politics believe will either not support the bill or agree to government amendments. The crossbench, though, thinks they have her support.

McGowan is – wisely – keeping her counsel until parliament returns.

Keep in mind that the legislation the House of Representatives is expected to consider on Tuesday is known as the Phelps bill, but it is actually an amendment to non-controversial legislation that was put up by independent Senator Tim Storer which is an exact replica of the legislation introduced by independent MP Kerryn Phelps last year.

Bill Shorten insisted publicly on Friday that Labor would support the Phelps bill, though adding caveats on ‘middle ground’ and subject to a security briefing DEAN LEWINS

The reason for this is a tactical one. It is harder for the government to avoid a vote on the Storer amendment than the Phelps bill.

But it is also worth noting that the Storer amendment has already been passed by the Senate – with Labor support.

Amid signs that McGowan may back away from the bill, Labor was privately saying late this week that it was not inclined to back the legislation – and open itself to an attack on border protection – for a bill that would not pass anyway. It was likely to, instead, agree to changes to the system.

Bill Shorten insisted publicly on Friday that Labor would support the Phelps bill, though adding caveats on “middle ground” and subject to a security briefing

“I do think if there’s middle ground, we should try and find it. Labor is supporting the Phelps’ amendments. This is all about making sure that people in our care, no matter what the circumstances, receive appropriate medical quality care. That’s what’s driving us”, he said

“If that means coming to Australia,” he said, “that is what should happen”.

It is going to be a wild couple of weeks in the national capital.

Laura Tingle is ABC 7.30’s chief political correspondent

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