Monday, 18 February, 2019

Australia to reopen Christmas Island detention centre

Anthony Albanese during Question Time in the House of Representatives Anthony Albanese says there may need to"tweak the bill on medical transfers for asylum seekers. AAP
Celia Hoffman | 13 February, 2019, 14:56

It is the first time in over seven decades that the incumbent government lost the vote on its own legislation.

The Prime Minister was repeatedly asked to say the fast-tracked transfers would not apply to new boat arrivals.

At its peak in 2010, nearly 2500 people were held there as Australia faced unprecedented numbers of asylum-seeker boat arrivals.

Legislation has only been passed in the House against a government's will in 1929, 1941, 1962 and 2013.

The prime minister pledged to reverse the laws if the coalition was re-elected at the poll expected in mid-May.

The bill was first mooted by independent MP Kerryn Phelps previous year after she won the Liberal Party stronghold of Wentworth when former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was ousted in a party coup.

Refugee advocates applaud the law that they regard as a more humanitarian approach toward asylum seekers.

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.

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.

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At that time, the sitting Australian leader called an election.

The changes included a provision that only the 1,000 asylum seekers now held on Nauru and Papua New Guinea and not any future arrivals would be considered for medical evacuation under the new regime.

"I just say to people trying to put out the welcome mat for people smugglers, the medivac legislation applies for people who are already there, it does not apply to anyone new", he told reporters.

Medical evacuations have become a loophole in Australia's policy of exiling asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

Section 53 is "non-justiciable" and therefore a court will not decide if a law is valid, meaning the government can not challenge the medical transfer bill in the High Court.

Scott Morrison remains defiant after the medical refugee transfers bill was passed today, warning the new laws will weaken Australia's borders.

"It should never have had to come to this point, but it is evident this bill was urgently needed to force action", lawyer Jennifer Kanis said in a statement.

"Many people are happy now because they will finally receive medical treatment".

Speaking in front of Parliament House this morning, Morrison reiterated his position the vote will encourage people smugglers to continue their operations in Australian waters - and that reopening the shuttered centre was part of a contingency plan to dissuade those potential arrivals.

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