Australia to reopen Christmas Island refugee detention camp

Doctors visited Parliament House to urge politicians to back a bill to make it easier for critically ill asylum seekers to be transferred to Australia

Australian government suffers historic defeat over refugee medical bill

The ALP and key crossbench and independent MPs and Senators came together to vote the bill through, delivering a historic blow for the government on the eve of an election.

"The people of Australia will remember this day and know that this is now on your head", the Prime Minister said to Mr Shorten in Parliament.

While the applications have not been lodged, the government was told to expect the medical recommendations, a view supported by advice from International Health and Medical Services, the contractor providing medical care to the asylum seekers.

"The priority for me having met with the general of Operation Sovereign Borders is to deal with the hard circumstance that Bill Shorten created", Dutton told Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) television.

The Morrison government is preparing to remove up to 300 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru in the first wave of transfers, after the laws cleared parliament.

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Prime minister Scott Morrison will speak at the National Press Club in Canberra on Monday - where he will argue only his government can protect Australians from local and global threats.

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.

"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?" His coalition has to call an election by May and has been trailing the opposition centre-left Labor Party in opinion polls. "The fact of the matter is this bill is about providing treatment to sick people", Shorten told Parliament.

"The critical issue is healthcare is best decided by those with medical expertise, not bureaucrats and politicians", high-profile refugee lawyer David Manne said.

Labor has also added detail to the "character test" to be used to reject transfers if a refugee has a criminal record, helping to address concerns raised by the Greens and Dr Phelps.

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The security grounds have also been clarified.

"The current Australian government policy indicates that only life-threatening cases, where a third-country option is not available or appropriate, can be considered for transfer to Australia", minutes of the committee meeting released under Freedom of Information reveal.

"It puts us - our government and border protection, security and intelligence agencies - under enormous time pressure".

The Prime Minister was repeatedly asked to say the fast-tracked transfers would not apply to new boat arrivals.

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