Refugee Bill: Aussie government defeated on major legislation

CANBERRA • Australia's conservative minority government suffered a damaging political defeat yesterday, becoming the first administration in nearly a century to lose a vote on major legislation.

Despite a bruising and highly personal lobbying effort, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was defeated by MPs who insisted refugees held in offshore facilities have the right to be transferred to Australia for medical treatment. The loss sparked calls for a snap election.

It is the first time in decades that an Australian government has lost a vote on a substantive piece of legislation, sparking applause from observers in the parliamentary viewing gallery in Canberra.

Mr Morrison lost his parliamentary majority last year and has been relying on crossbenchers to keep control of the lower House of Representatives. But the 75:74 vote - on the first day of sitting of Parliament this year - in favour of the refugee Bill opposed by the government is a blow to Mr Morrison and raised questions about whether he can remain in office.

Mr Morrison ruled out calling a snap election, saying the vote was not a no-confidence motion in his government and he was still planning for a national election in May.

"These are not matters that go to issues of confidence and I don't consider them in those terms," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

The Bill passed with the support of the main opposition Labor Party and crossbenchers from the left-leaning Greens and independent MPs. The Bill, which is an amendment to government legislation, was first passed by the Upper House in December, and will return to the Senate for a vote today after several changes were made to it.

It is expected to pass as the coalition does not have the numbers in the Upper House to block it.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline 'Refugee Bill: Aussie govt defeated on major legislation'. Print Edition | Subscribe