Derryn Hinch to vote with Labor and pass refugee medical transfer bill

Australian government suffers historic defeat over refugee medical bill

"The people of Australia will remember this day and know that this is now on your head", the Prime Minister said to Mr Shorten in Parliament.

The vote in favour of the Bill came amid growing concern about the well-being of asylum seekers sent to Nauru and Papua New Guinea, with reports of abuse, suicide and lengthy detention periods.

"I believe we can keep our borders secure, we can uphold national security, but still treat people humanely", he said.

The transfers will only apply to the existing cohort of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru, although Morrison said he will work to reverse it if re-elected in the upcoming federal election.

The government lost its lower-house majority at a by-election in October.

History has shown this to be the case, most starkly with the so-called "Tampa election" in 2001 when a deeply unpopular John Howard staged a dramatic recovery in the polls by campaigning on border security.

The move was initially seen as a sign his support for the bill was wavering, but he ultimately chose to continue his support. He has ruled out calling a snap election on the refugee issue.

"Votes will come and they will go, they do not trouble me", Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a news conference in the capital, Canberra, after the vote.

Section 53 of the constitution states the Senate "may not amend any proposed law so as to increase any proposed charge or burden on the people" - a provision that gives the government grounds to challenge the crossbench bill.

Morrison lost his parliamentary majority previous year and has been relying on cross-benchers to keep control of the lower House of Representatives.

"It's humiliating for the government", said Rod Tiffen, a political analyst at the University of Sydney.

Sick asylum seekers often have to fight the Australian government in court for permission to be transferred to an Australian hospital.

Labor, the Greens and four independents backed the bill in the Senate.

Speaking in front of Parliament House this morning, Morrison reiterated his position the vote will encourage people smugglers to continue their operations in Australian waters - and that reopening the shuttered centre was part of a contingency plan to dissuade those potential arrivals.

The ruling Liberal National coalition was firmly opposed to the legislation, which it said would endanger national security, but it passed Australia's lower house by a vote of 75 to 74.

The Labor proposal made it easier for refugees to get approved for medical transfer by making it more challenging for the Home Affairs Minister to reject their applications.

Labor is also pushing major reforms to the health system.

However, the immigration minister would still have some authority to overrule transfers.

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