Published: Wed, February 13, 2019
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

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

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

The Australian government has lost control of the parliament for the first time in nearly a century, losing a major vote on a bill to help evacuate critically ill refugees from offshore processing centers.

Morrison last week ruled out calling a snap election if his government was defeated over the "stupid" bill.

Furious at Labor for insisting on the changes, the government is now preparing for an election fight on border protection by claiming Mr Shorten would dismantle offshore processing and allow more asylum seekers to arrive by boat.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement Wednesday following a meeting of the National Security Committee of Cabinet and just before the Senate ratified the bill backed by Labor, the Greens and independents which facilitates the transfer to Australia of detainees for medical treatment.

A dozen refugees have already died in the Manus and Nauru camps and a number have attempted suicide, including children.

The bill was first mooted by independent MP Kerryn Phelps a year ago after she won the Liberal Party stronghold of Wentworth when former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was ousted in a party coup.

"We have approved putting in place the reopening of the Christmas Island detention facilities, both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers", Morrison said.

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

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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".

Australia has come under fire by the United Nations and human rights organizations for allowing asylum-seekers to languish for years on the Pacific island under inhumane conditions.

The move cut short a furious debate over whether the vote in the lower house could be seen as a vote on a money bill and was therefore a vote of no confidence in the government itself.

The federal opposition is introducing amendments to overhaul existing laws, lifting jail time for corporate crimes from 10 to 15 years and more than doubling the proposed cap on financial penalties.

Mr Shorten dismissed that claim and argued the bill simply allowed for better medical care for asylum seekers who needed help in Australia.

"Under my government Australia will be stronger".

"The current medical transfer system is broken".

Speaking before the vote, Morrison said that the changes would encourage people-smugglers and provoke a new flow of arrivals.

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