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Australian Government Suffers Historic Defeat Over Refugee Medical Bill

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Morrison government suffers first defeat on legislation for 80 years as refugee bill passes

Australian MPs have passed a landmark bill with an opposition amendment making it easier for sick refugees held offshore to be treated in the country.

The move is a blow for PM Scott Morrison’s minority government’s highly controversial immigration policy  as the opposition Labor Party and a group of independent MPs supported the legislation.

 

It is the first time an Australian government has lost a substantive vote in the House of Representatives since 1929, according to the parliament’s website.
At that time, the sitting Australian leader called an election. Despite his historic loss, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to do the same.
Doctors have long warned of inadequate medical facilities on the islands, while the UN has previously described the camp conditions as “inhumane”.

However, Mr Morrison said: “There is no form of this bill that does not weaken our border protection.”

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Australia has long defended its offshore detention policy by arguing that it stops deaths at sea and disrupts the trade of people smuggling.

The bill passed in the House of Representatives by one vote after the Labor opposition and crossbench MPs agreed on last-minute amendments.

It is expected to sail through the upper Senate later this week where it will become law.

In a defiant speech before the vote, Morrison said the legislation would weaken Australia’s border protection regime, without specifying how.
“I will not stand here and have this parliament give itself the excuse to weaken the border protection framework,” he said.
But the Australian government’s policies to stop refugees arriving in the country by boat have faced stern international criticism. Medical professionals from Doctors Without Borders said in November the situation was “beyond desperate.”
“Now the children, some of them, they are not eating, they are not drinking, anything, they are just lying on the bed, doing nothing… sometimes their parents have to take them to the hospital to feed them, by needle,” Doctors Without Borders psychologist Natalia Hverta Perez said in a video posted to social media.

But Mr Morrison has ruled out a snap election, saying last week that he wouldn’t “be going off to the polls” even if he lost the “stupid” bill.

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“Votes will come and go, they do not trouble me,” he said today after the government’s defeat. “The Australian people can always trust us to… ensure the integrity of our border protection framework.”

Mr Morrison’s coalition government has to call an election by May.

Last year, Australians were horrified by reports of a mental health crisis among children in detention. Doctors reported affected children too depressed to eat or sleep, and attempts of suicide among those as young as 11.

The wave of public backlash pushed the government to evacuate more than 100 children and their families from Nauru to Australia

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Advocates warned that a similar mental health crisis, and a plague of other medical issues, was also constant among the 1,000 adult detainees stuck on Nauru and Manus Island.

Hamid Khazaei, an Iranian refugee who died on Manus Island in 2014 from a foot infection, is one of 12 people to have died in the camps. Last year, an inquest into his death found it could have been prevented if he had been transferred to Australia earlier for medical treatment.