Historic defeat: Government loses vote on border protection laws

Remigio Civitarese
Febbraio 12, 2019

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was possible for Australia to have strong borders and treat refugees humanely.

Labor argued the bill was about "Australia's character" - how it treated sick people.

Scott Morrison has slammed Labor's decision to combine with the Greens and crossbench MPs to pass new laws making it easier for doctors to order medical evacuations of detainees held in offshore processing facilities.

Earlier, Attorney General Christian Porter warned the proposed bill was unconstitutional, as it was a spending bill originating in the Senate, after Labor amended the laws to explicitly say the panel of doctors judging medical transfers would not be paid.

The bill has to go back to the Senate to approve the amendments passed in the House.

Following the defeat, Prime Minister Scott Morrison attacked the "damaging impact of what Labor has done tonight".

He also took to social media after a press conference to say that Mr Shorten didn't care about the Australian borders. They have learned nothing from their past failures and can not be trusted to keep our borders and Australia strong.

"Within 24 hours.the Labor Party has proved me absolutely right".

"The Labor party and Liberal-National party are not on the same page when it comes to border protection. There is no bi-partisanship on this issue".

Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke has also told the coalition that Labor will not pair MPs - a practice when opposition MPs sit out votes when a government member can't make it - in certain instances, to ensure numbers are even.

Labor's Anthony Albanese (left) speaks to cross bench MP Kerryn Phelps during debate.

And angry Mr Morrison told Mr Shorten Labor was trying to "kid themselves" that the changes were being made in the name of humanitarianism.

Setting up a swingeing election battle on border protection, Morrison said the events of the day demonstrated Labor did not have the "mettle" to do what was necessary to protect Australia's borders, and could not be "trusted" to stop the deaths at sea. "This is now on your head, Leader of the Opposition".

Mr Morrison told Parliament the legislation, although meant to be humanitarian, was likely to lead to the return of people smugglers on the water in Australia's north.

The doctors were due to be paid under the original proposal - but Labor's late change to exclude remuneration means the bill can not be rejected on constitutional grounds.

A medical panel of two doctors would assess requests for medical transfers of people now on Manus Island and Nauru, but not new arrivals.

The Solicitor-General, Stephen Donaghue, said in an opinion that the bill breached Section 53 because the medical panel it would set up would be paid.

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