Canberra correspondent John Passant reports from the Canberra Press Gallery on the Medivac Bill developments.
THE MORRISON GOVERNMENT has been defeated on the floor over the 'Medical Evacuation Bill' (Medivac Bill).
Tuesday 12 February 8:00 pm
The Bill, with amendments moved by the leader of the Labor Opposition, passed (12 February) at about 6:13 pm by 75 votes to 74. It attempts to redress the cruelty inherent in locking people up who have committed no crime by bringing to Australia for treatment, those who are unwell and certified by doctors as such.
Leader of the House Christopher Pyne has admitted that conditions are so bad on Manus Island and Nauru that if the Medivac Bill were passed, 1,000 or more of the asylum seekers held there would be bought to Australia for medical treatment.
Pyne meant this as an indictment of the amendments in the Senate to the Government’s own Bill. It is, however, an indictment of the largely bipartisan major party policy of locking innocent people up offshore for years for the "crime" of seeking refuge. "Strong borders" and "stopping the boats" are the euphemisms used to disguise this deliberate cruelty.
Because it as amended, the Bill has now to go back to the Senate for debate and passage before it becomes law. One of Labor’s amendments removed the reference to spending in the Bill. At the end of an extended Question Time on Tuesday, the Speaker had dropped a bombshell. He released advice to the Parliament that the Bill as passed by the Senate could – in the opinion of the Solicitor-General – be unconstitutional.
Spending bills have to originate in the House. Labor’s amendment appears to remove that problem, although the Government continues to call this Bill "unconstitutional". It presumably will challenge it in the High Court to delay its start-up and even to defeat it, if the High Court takes a narrow view of the constitutional restriction.
How is it that there could be any debate on a Bill whose intent is to bring sick people to Australia for care — people whom Australia deliberately makes sick? The short answer is that helping refugees undermines the whole approach of this Government in mistreating them for political advantage. Making them sick is part of Australia’s deliberate strategy.
The Government will go full throttle on a scare campaign against this Bill, hoping to convince that section of Australia who falls for the nonsense about border protection and saving lives at sea. All the Manus Island and Nauru solutions mean is that Australia exports the problems and possible deaths at sea of refugees elsewhere. Given the hopelessness felt by those on Manus and Nauru, their suicide deaths should be sheeted home to the cause — the Morrison Government.
What does the defeat of the Government in the House mean? The amended Bill, if it becomes law by passing through the Senate, will see many of those we have brutalised (perhaps) come to Australia for medical treatment. That is a cause for celebration.
The Government lost this vote because Labor and the crossbenchers (apart from Member for Kennedy Bob Katter) had the numbers in the House and were united in their humanity.
The humanitarian crossbenchers who voted with Labor to support the amended Bill were:
- Member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps;
- Member for Chisholm Julia Banks;
- Member for Indi Cathy McGowan;
- Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie;
- Member for Melbourne Adam Bandt; and
- Member for Denison Andrew Wilkie.
In 1929 when the Bruce Government lost a vote in the House on a major bill, Stanley Bruce went to Government House and advised the Governor General to call an election. Labor subsequently won the election in a landslide.
Scott Morrison is not Stanley Bruce. He will ignore the defeat and carry on this Government’s business as usual — that is, the business of not doing business. It is also unlikely the crossbench will unite in a motion of no confidence if Labor were to move one. Some crossbenchers might feel strongly about refugees and asylum seekers but they may not join with Labor and other crossbenchers in voting the Government down.
Instead, the country will limp towards an election in May with the Government ramping up fear as its main vote winner. The worst is yet to come.
Wednesday 13 February 11:10 am
The Medivac Bill as amended in the House has just passed the Senate 36 for and 34 against. It will become law when signed in the next few days by the Governor General.
The Morrison Government has responded by announcing it will reopen the Christmas Island Detention Centre. Its rhetoric during this debate has been all about rapists and paedophiles coming to Australia, and hundreds drowning at sea. There is no truth to any of these comments. It does show the forthcoming election will be fought on lies, hysteria and fear by the Government. They have nothing else.
You can follow Canberra correspondent John Passant on Twitter @JohnPassant. Signed copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed, are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.
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