Published: Wed, February 13, 2019
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Australia to reopen Christmas Island detention centre

Australia to reopen Christmas Island detention centre

A fishing boat carrying Vietnamese asylum seekers neared the shore of Australia's Christmas Island, taken in 1993.

"If we're re-elected it won't apply to anybody because I will reverse it", he said.

The push to speed up medical evacuations was first made by independent MP Kerryn Phelps a year ago after she won the Liberal Party stronghold of Wentworth when former PM Malcolm Turnbull was ousted in a party coup.

He said the government's border protection policies, which now includes the reopening of the Christmas Island centre, remain "a great deterrent" to people smuggling operations.

The legislation will now go to the Governor-General for royal assent to become law, but the timeframe for this remains unclear.

Labor teamed up with the crossbench to pass amendments to the controversial Medical Transfers Bill, which would give doctors more power to decide whether asylum seekers on Manus Island or Nauru should come to Australian for treatment.

A dozen refugees have already died in the Manus and Nauru camps and a number have attempted suicide, including children.

However, Mr Morrison argued people smugglers did not deal with the nuance of the "Canberra bubble" but rather the psychology of messaging about "stronger" and "weaker" borders.

"We have approved putting in place the reopening of the Christmas Island detention facilities, both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers", Morrison said in a press conference following his government's defeat in the parliament.

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.

Mr Morrison denied his trumped-up rhetoric played into the hands of people smugglers. At its peak in 2010, the Christmas Island facility was home to around 2,400 people.

"The legislation applies for people who are already there [on Manus and Nauru] - it does not apply to anyone new", he told reporters.

Meanwhile, Labor is aiming to ramp up penalties against bankers and financial institutions who break the law. Despite his historic loss, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to do the same.

Major changes to Australia's health system would be led by a new, independent expert commission under a federal Labor government, making reforms harder to unpick.

"Ensuring access to adequate medical care for refugees and asylum-seekers is a life-saving, humanitarian act", said Louise Aubin, the representative of the UN Human Commissioner for Refugees in Canberra.

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