On Tuesday and Wednesday, the government suffered a historic setback in parliament when the opposition Labor and Independents voted against the ruling right’s opinion on controversial amendments on the medical treatment of asylum seekers relegated from Australia in offshore camps in Papua New Guinea or on the equatorial island of Nauru.
Concretely, these texts can allow the thousand of migrants still detained in these camps denounced by human rights organizations to be sent for treatment in Australia if two doctors request it.
The policy of the Australian right since 2013 has been to prevent at all costs asylum seekers trying to arrive illegally in Australia from setting foot on Australian soil.
> “You will thank Bill Shorten”
This vote was a historic defeat since it was the first time since 1929 that an Australian government was defeated in the House of Representatives on a law considered to be major.
Mr. Morrison, a conservative who had distinguished himself after the 2013 alternation by the implementation of the zero tolerance policy against boat people, brushed aside the fact that the amendments only concern migrants still detained in the camps offshore and accused the opposition of seeking to “weaken and compromise our borders”.
His government, he therefore countered, will adopt “100%” of recommendations made by the security services to strengthen efforts to prevent new arrivals of illegal immigrants.
He declined to specify what these recommendations were, apart from the one relating to the reopening of the camp on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean located 1,500 km from the north-eastern coast of the island. mainland Australia, and 350 km south of Indonesia.
“If they don’t come, it will be thanks to the decisions we are making now and the actions we are implementing”, said Mr. Morrison, who took power in August after an internal “putsch” in his Liberal Party. “If they come you will thank the Labor Party and (its leader) Bill Shorten.”
This shock decision is part of the campaign for the elections scheduled for May, during which immigration will be a key issue.
The last Conservative governments have been strongly criticized for their very restrictive policy implemented in 2013, which consists in systematically pushing back the boats of refugees trying to reach its coasts illegally.
Migrants who manage to do so have long been relegated indefinitely to offshore detention camps while their asylum applications are processed.
> “Pathetic, cruel and dangerous”
Even if the asylum request is justified, these illegal immigrants are not authorized to settle on Australian soil. They have the choice between going to a third country or returning home.
Canberra justifies its policy by the need to fight against smuggling gangs and deter migrants attempting the perilous crossing to Australia.
This policy has indeed been successful in drastically reducing the number of arrivals, but it has divided Australian opinion and tarnished the country’s international reputation. Many NGOs have crushed a very rich Nation turning its back on vulnerable populations.
Australia has suffered for years a deluge of criticism for the conditions of detention in the camps which house many children, where suicides and acts of self-harm have been recorded.
The Christmas Island camp, which also more recently included foreign convicts under common law whose residence permits had been cancelled, was also the scene of a violent riot in November 2015 after the death of an applicant for ‘asylum.
“Allowing access to adequate medical treatment for refugees and asylum seekers is a humanitarian imperative to save lives,” said Louise Aubin, representative in Canberra of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The Labor Party has stepped up to denounce “the alarmist tactics” of the government accused of playing on the fear of migrants for electoral purposes.
“The only person hoping for boats to come is Prime Minister Scott Morrison,” attacked Green Senator Sarah Hanson-Young for her part, denouncing “pathetic, cruel and dangerous” behavior.
Despite the defeat in Parliament, Mr Morrison ruled out calling a snap election, saying Australians would have a say in the legislative elections.