Melbourne, Feb 13 (PTI) Australia will reopen the controversial Christmas Island detention centre for asylum seekers, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Wednesday, ramping up border protection measures after an embarrassing defeat in Parliament which passed a legislation that would give refugees easier access to mainland hospitals.
Morrison said he would reopen the detention centre, which was closed last year, to cope with what he predicted would be an influx of transfers from Manus Island and Nauru.
“I am not at liberty to go into the detail of what they are, for obvious reasons. This Parliament has already tipped its hand enough to the people smugglers,” he said.
“We have approved putting in place the reopening of the Christmas Island detention facilities, both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers,” Morrison said.
The prime minister’s announcement came after the opposition Labor party and independents voted on Tuesday to amend hardline immigration laws to give doctors the right to transfer some 1,000 men and woman from two Pacific detention centres if they need medical treatment.
The new legislation, approved by the Senate on Wednesday, dealt a blow to the ruling conservative coalition which is trailing heavily in polls ahead of an election due in May.
Morrisson said he expected the new medical evacuation laws could restart the people smuggling trade and Australia needed to be ramp up its national security efforts.
“My job now is to do everything within my power, and the power of the government, to ensure that what the Parliament has done to weaken our borders does not result in boats coming to Australia,” he said.
His announcement was made after he convened an urgent meeting of the National Security Committee of the Cabinet.
The prime minister said he had commissioned “a range of strengthenings” to Operation Sovereign Borders as recommended by security and intelligence agencies.
The federal government became the first one to lose a vote on its own legislation in almost 80 years on Tuesday.
The Labor secured the support of most of the crossbench to win the Lower House vote 75 to 74 on the first sitting day for 2019.
According to media reports, security agencies also briefed the opposition leader Bill Shorten on the controversial bill’s ramifications.
The prime minister said the Labor had “no idea of the consequences they are playing with” and “will unleash a world of woe again” if it supports the bill.
The prime minister contended Shorten would be responsible if new boats arrived because “he led this process to weaken and compromise our borders”.
Labor is accusing the government of a hysterical response.
“What we have done is got the balance right. We want strong borders. We don’t want the vile people smuggler trade in business, exploiting people’s misery,” Shorten said.
“But we also want to make sure for people who have been in our care, detained, for over five and a half years in most cases, but they are subject to humane treatment. It is not Australian to have people in our care and not treat them properly and fairly,” he said.
The new laws only apply to refugees and asylum seekers already on Manus Island and Nauru and Labor says this means there will be no trigger for more people to get on boats.
The Christmas Island is an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, lying south of Java in Indonesia.
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.