Scott Morrison reopens Christmas Island detention centre

Historic defeat: Government loses vote on border protection laws

The Christmas Island detention centre closed in late 2018.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's announcement came after the government lost a vote yesterday on a landmark bill, which will give doctors permission to decide whether refugees should be sent to the mainland for medical treatment.

The legislative changes, which passed against the wishes of the Morrison government, allow immigration ministers to refuse medical transfers to convicted criminals.

The Christmas Island immigration detention camp, south of Jakarta, Indonesia, was a favorite target of people smugglers who brought asylum seekers from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East in rickety boats from Indonesian ports before the trade virtually stopped in recent years. "My job now is to do everything in my power and the power of the government to ensure what the Parliament has done to weaken our border does not result in boats coming to Australia".

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton picked up the thread and warned news of the legal changes had already reached people smugglers as parliamentary debates were closely followed overseas.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Parliament rebuffed government warnings and adopted legislation opening the door for some of the 1,000 refugees detained in existing offshore centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island to travel to Australia for medical treatment if the transfers are requested by two or more doctors.

"Morrison will be happy to fight an election on this issue".

"I'm going to be engaged in very clear and direct messaging to anyone who thinks they should get on a boat", Mr Morrison said.

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He declined to specify what those classified measures were, other than to announce the reopening of the camp on Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory some 2,300 kilometres (1,400 miles) northwest of the western city of Perth.

The ruling coalition lost the majority in the Lower House past year.

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

"I totally repudiate the attacks of the government, seeking to whip up fear and hysteria, seeking to lure people smugglers to entice people onto boats to come to Australia", he told reporters.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten accused the coalition of rolling out the welcome mat for people smugglers by suggesting Australia's borders are now less secure.

The home affairs minister will have 72 hours to make a decision on whether to grant the transfer, with the extended deadline important in winning Senator Hinch over.

"Most of the people on Manus Island and Nauru are recognised refugees who have proven their lives would be in danger if they were returned to their countries of origin". After he left office, the centre-left Labor government began holding refugees on Christmas Island.

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