The government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison has lost a crucial vote on a bill that allowed doctors greater say on the medical evacuation of sick asylum seekers from detention centers on Manus Island and Nauru. During a heated debate in the parliament, Morrison warned the changes would weaken Australia’s borders and raise national security concerns.
Despite the defeat, Morrison ruled out calling an early election, saying at a news conference in Canberra the federal poll will be held in May after the budget. “My job now is to work with border and security agencies to mitigate the risks of these bills.”
Backed by the main Labor opposition and several independent lawmakers, the bill will now move to the upper house of parliament for further debate and another vote. The government lost the vote 75-74. “Sick people in our care are now one step closer to get the quality of medical treatment they need, without jeopardizing our borders,” Independent Senator Tim Storer, who supports the bill, said in a media release.
One of the best known refugees held in detention on Manus Island, journalist and author Behrouz Boochani, described the vote as historic. “Many people are happy now because they will finally receive medical treatment. Great to see the Australian parliament finally vote for humanity,” he tweeted. Former prime minister Tony Abbott condemned the outcome in a tweet. “People smugglers and their customers are the only winners from Labor’s weakening of our border protection policies because ample medical treatment offshore and onshore was available.”