Hoo Boy. The Government Just Lost A Significant Vote For The First Time In 90 Years
Very good news for refugees. Very bad news for ScoMo
The Morrison government has suffered a humiliating defeat in Parliament, losing a substantial vote on legislation in the House of Representatives — the first time a government has lost such a vote in 90 years.
The defeat capped off a wild day in Parliament after Labor teamed up with the Greens and crossbenchers to get the bill passed, despite advice from the Solicitor General that it is is unconstitutional.
The bill will have far-reaching consequences. First, it’s great news for the many asylum seekers still locked in off-shore detention, who now stand a much greater chance of finally making it to Australia.
It has also sparked a constitutional crisis for the government, which has now essentially lost control of Parliament.
Wait, What’s A Constitutional Crisis?
So, you’ve probably heard a bit about Independent MP Kerryn Phelps’ “medevac” bill. We’ve got a handy explainer here, but just quickly, the bill clears the way for hundreds of people detained on Manus and Nauru to be transferred to Australia for medical care.
The bill has been the subject of much debate since it was passed in the Senate last year. Since then, the government has been putting pressure on Labor to change its stance, saying it weakens Australia’s border security.
Labor has been hedging its bets because on the one hand, it doesn’t want to be seen as weak on national security (a traditional electoral weakness for Labor), but on the other hand, many Labor voters believe in a more humane refugee policy.
Meanwhile the Greens and independents were lining up behind the bill. After some negotiating this week, Labor agreed to back the bill with some minor amendments, meaning the government didn’t have the numbers to stop it from being passed.
But then, what’s that sound? IT’S THE SOLICITOR GENERAL, BITCH!
This afternoon, Speaker Tony Smith announced that the government had received advice from the Solicitor General saying that the bill is unconstitutional in its current form. That’s because the bill, which involved the spending of taxpayer money, originated in the Senate. Money bills are only supposed to originate in the House, because government is formed in the House and you can’t really be the government if you don’t control the purse strings, y’know?
So Labor decided to amend the bill so that any doctors making recommendations to the government wouldn’t be paid, clearing up that little constitutional snafu.
— James O'Doherty (@jmodoh) February 12, 2019
The bill then passed the House, 75 votes to 74 — the first time a government has lost such a significant vote since 1929.
The laws will almost certainly be challenged in the High Court, and they may even be struck down. In the meantime, we’ve got ourselves a constitutional crisis BABEY! Because, as mentioned, the government has lost control of the House.
Here’s what Constitutional expert Anne Twomey told Sky News this afternoon, courtesy of The Guardian.
“If the bill actually gets passed against the wishes of the government, that would be an indication that the government has lost control over the finances of the country… That is critical, in terms of confidence in loss of government.”
But those comments applied to the earlier version of the bill, which has since been amended again. It’s all a bit of a mess really.
What that actually means for the future of the government isn’t entirely clear just yet. Traditionally, after a government is defeated like this, it would resign. The last time this happened, the government called an election the next day. But it’s unlikely that ScoMo will do that. A lot of attention will now turn to Governor General Peter Cosgrove.
And What Does The Legislation Actually Do?
And there’s more good news! The legislation that was passed today is designed to help refugees stranded on Nauru and Manus Island. It aims to make sure asylum seekers detained off-shore are evacuated to Australia for medical care when they need it. Under the bill, all children currently in offshore detention, along with their families, would be temporarily transferred to Australia for medical assessments.
The bill would also require the government to transfer any person in offshore detention to Australia for medical treatment if two doctors recommended doing so. Currently, the government will only consider a medical transfer if the person in question is facing a “life-threatening medical emergency that would otherwise result in their death or permanent, significant disability”, according to documents uncovered by BuzzFeed.
The bill had the support of peak medical bodies like the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, and refugee advocacy groups like the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
Again, given the wacky day we’ve had in Parliament, it’s not quite clear what the future of the bill is or how it will be implemented. First, it will need to go back to the Senate so they can agree to the amendments just passed by the House.
But one thing is for certain: Scott Morrison just had a very bad day.