Derryn Hinch to vote with Labor and pass refugee medical transfer bill

Desiree Burns
February 13, 2019

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.

But the 75-74 vote - which came on the first sitting day of Parliament this year - in favour of the refugee Bill opposed by the government is a blow to the already embattled Prime Minister and raised questions about whether he can remain in office.

Immigration policy requires asylum seekers intercepted at sea to be sent to camps in PNG and its northern island of Nauru, and they can not set foot in Australia, even if they are found to be refugees.

The Bill, which is an amendment to government legislation, was first passed by the Upper House in December, and will return to the Senate for a vote on Wednesday after several changes were made to it. Despite his historic loss, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to do the same.

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

Mr Morrison said he expected the new medical evacuation laws could restart the people smuggling trade and Australia needed to be ramp up national security efforts as a result.

"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 in a press conference following his government's defeat in the parliament.

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Under a harsh policy meant to deter asylum seekers from reaching Australia by boat, Canberra sent arrivals to Nauru and Papua New Guinea for processing and barred them from resettling in Australia.

Senator Hinch backed the bill in the Senate late previous year.

The changes included a provision that only the 1,000 asylum seekers now held on Nauru and Papua New Guinea and not any future arrivals would be considered for medical evacuation under the new regime.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten believes he has responded to community concern about sick refugees in detention, and is desperately hoping the ALP's buffer in the polls will be enough to protect it from any backlash on border protection.

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

Scott Morrison remains defiant after the medical refugee transfers bill was passed today, warning the new laws will weaken Australia's borders. "In the previous year alone, we have had to take court action repeatedly to help secure the medical evacuation of 26 ill people on Nauru, many of these children". "This puts Australia back on the map for people smugglers and Bill Shorten has that on his shoulders".

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