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