The controversial legislation to allow asylum seekers to travel to Australia for medical treatment has passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has responded by saying that the new legislation would “weaken our borders” (a sentiment recently echoed by Defence Minister Christopher Pyne) and has announced the reopening of the Christmas Island detention centre in order to have any asylum seekers or refugees deemed eligible for medivac to be treated there instead of mainland Australia.
However, the CEO of the Christmas Island Shire, David Price, has labelled the Government’s announcement a “political knee-jerk reaction”, citing that the small regional hospital on the island was not adequate as it did not perform operations and had no specialists to address mental health concerns.
Mr Price said that the Government did not consult with his administration prior to making the call to re-open the detention centre and said that there has been no explanation of how they will be able to treat the influx of refugees and asylum seekers “in a humane way”.
He added “Just opening the detention centre doesn’t do that.”
Mr Morrison’s government is adamant that the passing of the new legislation would reignite the people smuggling trade, leading to a new influx of boats arriving in Australian waters. He said that his responsibility was to “do everything in my power” to make sure that the new laws did not “result in boats coming to Australia,”
Labor has responded to Coalition’s criticism of their decision to support the bill and in particular Mr Morrison’s rhetoric on the issue. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in a tweet that the Prime Minister’s behaviour was “beyond belief” and that he was “happy to endorse lies” as well as having spitefully “encouraged people smugglers to restart their evil trade”.
The controversy over the bill has set the stage for immigration policy to be a key battle in the upcoming federal election.