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Refugee transfer laws pass Parliament in blow to Government

Scott Morrison has lost a historic vote on the floor of Parliament, as Labor, the Greens and the bulk of the crossbench members combined to pass legislation making it easier for doctors to order medical evacuations of detainees held in offshore processing facilities.

It is the first time in 90 years a government has lost a substantive vote on the floor of Parliament, highlighting the perilous position the Prime Minister finds himself in following the loss of the Coalitions Parliamentary majority last year.

The vote, which the government lost by one, 75-74, comes despite dire warnings from Attorney General Christian Porter that the proposed bill was unconstitutional, as it was a spending bill originating in the Senate, after Labor amended the laws to explicitly say the panel of doctors judging medical transfers would not be paid.

Despite days of pressure from the Government, Labor was backed by six crossbench MPs to inflict a series of procedural defeats on the Government, culminating in the passage of the legislation tonight.

The legislation will not become law until it again passes through the Senate, most likely tomorrow, and when it is agreed by the Governor General.

Mr Morrison told Parliament the legislation, although intended to be humanitarian, was likely to lead to the return of people smugglers on the water in Australia’s north.

“I remind them that their humanitarianism, as supposed, last time led to child deaths. It led to the total destruction of our borders,” he said.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten told Parliament the bill was simply a matter of ensuring Australia met its obligations to people held in its car.

Mr Shorten acknowledged the final amendments were not all of what crossbench and Greens MPs wanted, but said it was a reasonable compromise.

“I believe we can keep our borders secure, we can uphold our national security, but still treat people humanely,” he said.

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