Labor shifts on medivacs for asylum seekers ahead of vote today

NSW Doctor Sara Townend with other young doctors at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra

The last time a government lost a vote on legislation on the floor of the house was in 1929, while in 1941 the government lost a vote on a budget bill.

Opponents of the policy introduced the measure to amend the Migration Act to allow the temporary transfer of "transitory persons" from PNG or Nauru to Australia for medical assessment, a move backed by doctors.

Mr Shorten later put forward amendments saying the decisions should be made within 72 hours unless the refugees should be rejected on security grounds.

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

A bill making it easier for asylum seekers to get medical treatment in Australia passed the Senate in December with Labor's support, but under pressure from the government the party wants to make more changes to it.

With the constitutional issue sorted, Labor and the crossbenchers teamed up for a series of 75-74 wins over the coalition.

Labor leader Bill Shorten says the fact that it only applies to those on Manus and Nauru, and not any new arrivals, means the law changes won't send the wrong signal.

"Where we will always stand, and the Australian people can always trust us to do, is to have the mettle to ensure the integrity of our border protection framework". "Whatever mandate governments may claim to be tough on border protection, there has never been a mandate to treat people like this".

Setting the stage for a heated federal election campaign, Morrison warned the changes would weaken Australia's borders and raise national security concerns.

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

Australia has held thousands of asylum seekers in camps on the island nation of Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island since 2013, with about 1,000 remaining on both islands.

The opposition Labour Party and a group of independent MPs supported the legislation.

Kerryn Phelps, the independent MP who championed the bill and who previously served as President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), described the vote as "such an important day for sick people needing medical care they are unable to receive".

"Labor is giving a lot of power back to Peter Dutton and it's not clear that sick refugees will come to Australia any quicker than they do now".

If the minister rejects for it medical reasons, that decision can be reviewed by a medical panel, who can recommend it goes ahead.

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