Refugee 'medivac bill' passes Australia's lower house

Refugee 'medivac bill' passes Australia's lower house

It is the first time in over seven decades that the incumbent government lost the vote on its own legislation.

But the 75-74 vote - which came on the first sitting day of Parliament this year - in favour of the refugee Bill opposed by the government is a blow to the already embattled Prime Minister and raised questions about whether he can remain in office.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate where the LNP holds only 31 out of 76 seats, will force the medical transfers of asylum seekers being held in offshore detention to Australia if two doctors agree it is necessary.

"I'm going to be engaged in very clear and direct messaging to anyone who thinks they should get on a boat", Mr Morrison said.

Labor has handed the Coalition a campaign gift, and the Liberal Party will be quickly dusting off their tried and tested campaign material on boat arrivals and erecting billboards in marginal seats across the country.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement Wednesday following a meeting of the National Security Committee of Cabinet and just before the Senate ratified the bill backed by Labor, the Greens and independents which facilitates the transfer to Australia of detainees for medical treatment.

"With the last few children leaving Nauru and the provision of adequate medical care now in sight, we are hopefully witnessing an end to the race to the bottom on refugee policy", said Mr Glendenning.

The bill must be approved by the upper house to become law, but is likely to pass, as the Senate supported an earlier version a year ago.

"Last night was not about an election - last night was about the simple proposition that Australia is strong enough to treat people humanely", he told reporters at Parliament House.

A fishing boat carrying Vietnamese asylum seekers neared the shore of Australia's Christmas Island, taken in 1993.

Phil Glendenning, President of the Refugee Council of Australia said, "We thank and congratulate all the Members of Parliament and Senators who came together and voted with their conscience on this long overdue legislation".

The government says the Christmas Island re-start will cost about $1.4 billion over four years.

Labor argues the minister will have the final say on the medical evacuations and the opposition insists it has a tough but fair border protection policy.

"Many people are happy now because they will finally receive medical treatment".

Sick asylum seekers often have to fight the Australian government in court for permission to be transferred to an Australian hospital. "People have died as a result", Ms Nicholls said.