Scott Morrison reopens Christmas Island detention centre

Ben Davidson
February 13, 2019

It is the first time in decades that an Australian government has lost a vote on a substantive piece of legislation, sparking applause and cheers from observers in the parliamentary viewing gallery in Canberra.

This bloc of 75 was enough to pass the bill over the 73 government votes and another vote from Queensland independent Bob Katter.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who had staunchly opposed the bill, responded by saying the measure could undermine national security, offering a preview of what is likely to be his campaign pitch, and the election's central issue.

Labor, the Greens and four independents backed the bill in the Senate after the same legislation was passed in the House of Representatives yesterday.

"My job now is to do everything within my power, and the power of the government, to ensure that what the Parliament has done to weaken our borders does not result in boats coming to Australia", he said.

Labor's Senate leader Penny Wong said Mr Morrison was playing politics ahead of the election, likely to be held in May.

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. The policy banishes asylum seekers who attempt to reach Australia by boat to the Pacific island camps in a bid to deter other asylum seekers from making the perilous voyage. His Liberal-National coalition's six years in power has been marked by instability, with two prime ministers toppled by internal insurrections.

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The government had struck a deal in 2016 for the United States to accept up to 1,250 refugees languishing on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

"If we're re-elected it won't apply to anybody because I will reverse it", he said.

Medical evacuations have become a loophole in Australia's policy of exiling asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

Mr Shorten proposed a deadline of three days for each decision to transfer a refugee to Australia for medical treatment, scaling back Labor's initial deadline of one week.

Section 53 is "non-justiciable" and therefore a court will not decide if a law is valid, meaning the government can not challenge the medical transfer bill in the High Court.

"It should never have had to come to this point, but it is evident this bill was urgently needed to force action", lawyer Jennifer Kanis said in a statement.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton took a swing, too.

Speaking in front of Parliament House this morning, Morrison reiterated his position the vote will encourage people smugglers to continue their operations in Australian waters - and that reopening the shuttered centre was part of a contingency plan to dissuade those potential arrivals.

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