Health Care

Australia Government Suffers Historic Defeat on Refugee Bill

Australia Government Suffers Historic Defeat on Refugee Bill

The proposal called for a specially appointed panel to review medical transfer requests on Manus Island and Nauru, making it harder for the Home Affairs Minister to reject them.

Labor spokesman Tony Burke said the only signal going to people smugglers would be coming from the coalition government, if it decides to trumpet one.

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

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is expecting more asylum seekers to land in Australia, after changes to medical transfers for asylum seekers in offshore detention passed federal parliament's lower house.

The new legislation, approved by the Senate on Wednesday, dealt a blow to the ruling conservative coalition which is trailing heavily in polls ahead of an election due in May.

"I think there's no question that people smugglers will be hearing very clearly that the policy in Australia has changed and I think we need to be very cognisant of that".

The vote has paved the way for border protection to be a major issue in the general election, which Morrison on Tuesday said would be held in May despite the historic defeat.

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Scott Morrison announced $78 million in fresh funding for families escaping domestic abuse, as part of a wider speech about domestic and worldwide security.

The prime minister said he had commissioned "a range of strengthenings" to Operation Sovereign Borders as recommended by security and intelligence agencies.

Changes to Australia's border policy have passed through parliament, as the government warns this will lead to more illegal boat arrivals.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten believes he has responded to community concern about sick refugees in detention, and is desperately hoping the ALP's buffer in the polls will be enough to protect it from any backlash on border protection.

The prime minister said the Labor had "no idea of the consequences they are playing with" and "will unleash a world of woe again" if it supports the bill. The government had similarly made the offer only available to refugees on the islands at the time to avoid attracting new asylum seekers, Shorten said.

"What we have done is got the balance right".

The Greens are concerned about Senate delays and about the way the amendments give the Immigration Minister more discretion, which could force applications for medical transfers to go through the courts as they are today.