Published: Thu, February 14, 2019
Worldwide | By Lisa Hogan

Scott Morrison suffers historic defeat as border protection election looms

Scott Morrison suffers historic defeat as border protection election looms

The prime minister is reopening a mothballed detention centre on Christmas Island as part of his $1.4 billion response to the new laws, as he braces for a potential influx of asylum seekers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison before losing the vote on Tuesday night.

The transfers will only apply to the existing cohort of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru, although Morrison said he will work to reverse it if re-elected in the upcoming federal election.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten chose not to turn the government's defeat into a call for an early election, arguing the new law was a humanitarian change that made no significant adjustment to offshore processing of boat arrivals. 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.

"My job now is to ensure that the boats don't come... to..."

"I totally repudiate the attacks of the government, seeking to whip up fear and hysteria, seeking to lure people smugglers to entice people onto boats to come to Australia", he told reporters.

"Morrison will be happy to fight an election on this issue".

In a surprise legal twist just hours before the vote, the government cited legal advice from the Solicitor-General to argue the bill would incur additional expenses by creating a panel of medical experts to rule on refugee transfers.

Morrison said he would repeal the "foolish law" if his government were re-elected.

The Medevac Bill - also known as the Phelps Bill - passed by 75 votes to 74, delivering a historic defeat for the government on the first sitting day of parliament for the year, after Labor secured the support of the Greens and crossbench MPs to outnumber the Liberal National Coalition. Legislation has only been passed in the House against a government's will in 1929, 1941, 1962, and 2013.

The ruling coalition lost the majority in the Lower House past year.

The parliamentary year will start with a church service with both leaders in Canberra on Tuesday morning, before parliament sits.

The people smuggling boat traffic has all but stopped in the past five years with the government promising that any refugees who arrive on Australian shores by boat will never be allowed to settle there.

The measure has already been dubbed a "disaster" for Australia by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who accused Labor of "unraveling a successful border protection policy" and promised to enforce "contingency plans" to mitigate its adverse effect.

The prime minister based his decision on the assessment of the country's security agencies, which had warned in December that like the one approved on Wednesday would result in an increase in asylum seekers heading to Australia.

Like this: