Australian government defeated in parliament for first time in 78 years

Faith Castro
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.

It lost a vote on the Medivac Bill 75 to 74.

The setback in the conservative government's effort to scale down the controversial migrant detention program is a response to a new amendment to a medical evacuations bill, championed by the Labor party, which enlisted the support of the Greens and crossbench MPs.

Today's historic vote on the urgent medical treatment bill delivered a decisive message to the government: Australians want an end to the abhorrent treatment of people in offshore detention that has been carried out in their name.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a security committee of his cabinet agreed to reopen the camp on Wednesday on the advice of senior security officials.

An Afghan asylum seeker allegedly grabbed two nurses' bottoms after being rushed from Nauru to Australia for medical treatment.

The detention centre on Christmas Island will reopen, the federal government announced.

"I believe we can keep our borders secure, we can uphold national security, but still treat people humanely", he said.

"Every arrival is on Bill Shorten and Labor's head".

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The Senate passed similar amendments on medical evacuations despite ruling party objections on the last day Parliament sat past year.

"I'm going to be engaged in very clear and direct messaging to anyone who thinks they should get on a boat", Mr Morrison said.

Kon Karapanagiotidis from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said the Government was trying to "whip up hysteria and fear-mongering", ignoring the fact the new laws applied only to the existing cohort of refugees.

Labor made a strategic move to avoid turning the bill into a test of confidence in the government, withdrawing part of the medical transfer scheme that required funding to pay for medical experts to review transfers.

But criticism of the camps has grown amid reports of abuse, suicides and lengthy detention periods, even as the government says the policy is discouraging asylum seekers from embarking on unsafe sea voyages.

Sick asylum seekers often have to fight the Australian government in court for permission to be transferred to an Australian hospital.

"Thank you to all of the many people who contributed to this remarkable community campaign", she wrote on social media.

"There is no question that people smugglers will be hearing very clearly that the policy in Australia has changed", Dutton said.

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