Australia's lower house passes asylum bill in rebuke for government

Pearl Mccarthy
February 13, 2019

It is the first time an Australian government has lost a substantive vote in the House of Representatives since 1929, according to the parliament's website.

The Prime Minister during question time this afternoon dug the boot into Labor over national security concerns emerging from the bill.

On Wednesday, Mr Morrison said the government would re-open the Christmas Island centre "to deal with the prospect of arrivals. and transfers" - arguing both were now more likely.

The bill approved by the lower house must go to another vote in the Senate, where the government does not appear to have the numbers to stop the new scheme becoming law.

"This bill changes the response to medical emergencies in offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru", Mr Glendenning said.

About 1,200 refugees are estimated to be in exile in Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus, where they've been indefinitely detained for nearly six years.

"My job now is to ensure that the boats don't come", he told reporters at Parliament House.

Scott Morrison is ramping up border security patrols and reopening Christmas Island after Federal Parliament passed new laws fast-tracking medical evacuations for asylum seekers.

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The Christmas Island detention centre was mothballed late a year ago as part of a pre-election promise to shutter a series of immigration facilities.

As a result, a "range of strengthenings" will boost Operation Sovereign Borders, but certain details of the stronger capacity won't be publicly revealed.

But criticism of the camps has grown amid reports of abuse, suicides and lengthy detention periods, even as the government says the policy is discouraging asylum seekers from embarking on risky sea voyages.

Kerryn Phelps, the independent MP who championed the bill and who previously served as President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), described the vote as "such an important day for sick people needing medical care they are unable to receive".

The vote has paved the way for border protection to be a major issue in the general election, which Morrison on Tuesday said would be held in May despite the historic defeat.

Labor made a strategic move to avoid turning the bill into a test of confidence in the government, withdrawing part of the medical transfer scheme that required funding to pay for medical experts to review transfers.

Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said the powerful Australian Health Reform Commission would develop and oversee long-term reforms, with the overarching aim of ensuring every Australian can access affordable, high-quality health care.

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