PM reopens Christmas Island as asylum seeker bill moves through Senate

Federal Minister for Immigration David Coleman

The Australian government has lost control of the parliament for the first time in nearly a century, losing a major vote on a bill to help evacuate critically ill refugees from offshore processing centers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is holding out against any change to existing rules that give the Immigration Minister full discretion to reject transfers, but he is exposed to the first defeat of a government on a substantial piece of legislation since the 1920s.

The bill would become law without another vote if it is approved by the House on Tuesday.

The federal government became the first one to lose a vote on its own legislation in nearly 80 years on Tuesday.

Dozens of doctors descended on Parliament House in Canberra before Labor's meeting, urging MPs to support the original bill.

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"Today Labor will fight for more jail time and increased penalties for banks and bankers who do the wrong thing", Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said on Wednesday, as the party sought Senate backing to bring on the bill for debate.

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.

"If we're sending people who really need [help] to Australia already, why make a big deal of it, and why create a symbol that says we're going to get even kinder?" "Whatever mandate governments may claim to be tough on border protection, there has never been a mandate to treat people like this".

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

The decision was made before the Senate passed legislation 36 votes to 34 that would allow doctors instead of bureaucrats to decide which asylum seekers on camps on the Pacific island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru can fly to Australia for hospital treatment.

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The opposition Labour Party and a group of independent MPs supported the legislation.

If it is not decided on Tuesday, the crossbench may need to suspend standing orders on another day - a move that would require 76 votes and may be impossible.

"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".

"Labor is giving a lot of power back to Peter Dutton and it's not clear that sick refugees will come to Australia any quicker than they do now".

In the first instance, an eight-person independent panel, which includes the Commonwealth's chief medical officer and representatives of doctors' bodies like the Australian Medical Association, will then have a further 72 hours to examine the minister's decision and potentially overrule it.

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