Australia's Lower House Passes Asylum Bill in Historic Defeat for Government

Australian government suffers historic defeat over refugee medical bill

Australia will reopen its Christmas Island immigration centre after the Morrison government suffered a historic defeat in the House of Representatives on the refugee medevac bill.

When the sitting government last lost a vote on substantive legislation in 1929, then prime minister Stanley Bruce immediately called an election, and lost it. At its peak in 2010, the Christmas Island facility was home to around 2,400 people.

He said the measure was part of "a range of strengthening" of Operation Sovereign Borders' capacity needed because of a bill which would make it easier to medically evacuate critically ill asylum seekers from offshore detention centres to Australia.

On Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would reopen the Christmas Island detention centre - which closed previous year - to cope with what he predicted would be an influx of transfers from Manus Island and Nauru.

"We have approved putting in place the reopening of the Christmas Island detention facilities, both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers", Morrison said in a press conference following his government's defeat in the parliament.

"I think it's the right decision", Mr Hinch said.

"What my job is is to make sure the beast doesn't wake up, but I can tell you Bill Shorten's given it a big poke... and he's done it willfully".

The bill must be approved by the upper house to become law, but is likely to pass, as the Senate supported an earlier version past year.

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The Australian government will be reopening the Christmas Island detention center, likened to a maximum security prison, after the opposition streamlined a bill to allow migrant detainees to seek medical help on the mainland.

"My job now is to do everything within my power and in the power of the government to ensure that what the parliament has done to weaken our borders does not result in boats coming to Australia", he said.

"This parliament has already tipped its hand enough to the people smugglers", he said.

"But when you're in a village in Indonesia and someone is selling you a product, there's no protection or truth in advertising for people smugglers".

The legislation will now go to the Governor-General for royal assent to become law, but the timeframe for this remains unclear.

"The legislation applies for people who are already there [on Manus and Nauru] - it does not apply to anyone new", he told reporters.

Morrison and his government staunchly opposed the bill, saying care available at the detention camps was adequate and the bill could open a loophole for asylum-seekers to exploit.

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