Published: Fri, February 15, 2019
Medicine | By Daryl Nelson

Refugee 'medivac bill' passes Australia's lower house

Refugee 'medivac bill' passes Australia's lower house

Australia's government suffered an embarrassing defeat in Parliament on Tuesday, as the lower house voted for a measure allowing asylum seekers to access medical care, the first such loss by a government in 78 years.

The Opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP) joined forces with the Greens and independent Members of Parliament (MPs) to pass the medical evacuations bill by 75 votes to the governing Liberal-National Party coalition (LNP)'s 74.

Senator Hinch had asked for an urgent security briefing on the implications of the bill, which the government facilitated early on Wednesday morning, but Senator Hinch said he was not persuaded to abandon his support for the bill.

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

As part of the response, the government will quickly reopen the Christmas Island facility which was mothballed in October 2018.

"But we also want to make sure for people who have been in our care, detained, for over five and a half years in most cases, but they are subject to humane treatment". Rape survivors have had to have traumatic late term abortions due to government blocks.

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.

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Labor representatives said it was about "doing the right thing", and the vote provoked cheers from asylum-seeker activists in parliament's public gallery.

He had been given confidential advice from the solicitor-general that the bill was unconstitutional, and also said he had been asked to keep it secret.

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

The centre on Australian territory has been the scene of violent riots, hunger strikes and numerous incidents of self-harm.

Under a harsh policy meant to deter asylum seekers from reaching Australia by boat, Canberra sends arrivals to the camps for processing and barred them from resettling in Australia. A wooden boat carrying 90 asylum seekers from Iran and Iraq ran onto rocks on Christmas Island in 2010, killing 48.

But Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says Labor is wrong and criminals are already using the law changes in their marketing.

Mr Dutton said any new arrivals would go to Nauru. "This puts Australia back on the map for people smugglers and Bill Shorten has that on his shoulders".

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