Morrison government suffers first defeat on legislation for 80 years as refugee bill passes  02/12/2019 09:06:29  3

This is where we are going to leave our live coverage for today.

You can read David Wroe's analysis of the ugly, but workable compromise, Tony Wright's take on how the first day of the political year threatened to end the Morrison government, and David Crowe's wrap up of the Coalition's historic defeat here

If you are more pressed for time our reporter, Max Koslowski, has drawn together today's events below.

As the first sitting day of the year was winding down, Attorney-General Christian Porter tabled legal advice from the Solicitor-General which questioned whether the crossbench’s much-anticipated medical evacuation bill was constitutional.

The advice focussed on a single, crucial issue: any piece of legislation that uses government funds must originate in the House of Representatives. The Solicitor-General said that the Senate, where the crucial amendments were first inserted, did not have the authority to distribute government funds - they can only approve bills on government money sent to them by the House.

Labor and the crossbench hurriedly amended the legislation to avoid the threatened High Court challenge: they added a line saying the bill would rely on volunteer doctors (the only way it had planned to use government money was by remunerating the independent medical panel), meaning the crucial amendments could originate from the Senate without controversy.

The bill passed the House, in what is set to be first non-appropriations, non-procedural vote loss since 1941.

The bill will have to go back to the Senate this week to be properly passed - if one chamber tacks in any amendments, the other one has to agree to them too - but it is set to become law after the PM guaranteed it would go to the Governor-General despite the government's protests. 

The government says this bill will weaken border security, and revealed that they had been preparing a contingency plan for the country’s borders if the bill were to pass. Labor and the crossbench say it will bring asylum seekers needing medical treatment to Australia. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed questions on whether the vote loss was cause for an early election, saying we were still set to go to the polls sometime in May.

That was the first sitting day of the year.

Thanks for joining us. 

Twice in the frenzied events of Tuesday afternoon, the Morrison government turned to its highly capable Speaker in the House of Representatives, Tony Smith, to rescue it from an historic defeat.

Twice, he failed to oblige. 

Read Michael Koziol's report on the goverment's push to sway Smith here. 

Speaker Tony Smith during a division in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Speaker Tony Smith during a division in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is speaking to ABC's 730 program.  

"I do believe we will see boats under the bill that Shorten has passed” he says. “People smugglers will see the policy in Australia has changed. Bill Shorten has this on his shoulders.”

Labor rejects this argument. They argue that by restricting the transfers to those already on Nauru or Manus Island people smugglers will have little incentive to restart their boats.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“People weren’t buying the national security argument. There were safeguards within the Phelps bill,” Banks says. “With the amendments today - we worked on it all morning - it’s good to get it done.”

Ms Banks has a mind towards her re-election: “The overwhelming feedback, not just from my electorate of Chisholm but from [the new seat of] Flinders, has been extraordinary.”

Crossbench MPs Kerryn Phelps, Julia Banks and Rebekha Sharkie celebrate

Crossbench MPs Kerryn Phelps, Julia Banks and Rebekha Sharkie celebrate Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

It was the one vote the government could not afford to lose. Independent Cathy McGowan was the last hold-out to Labor and The Greens securing the passage of the legislation. 

She reportedly told the government this afternoon that she would be voting for the legislation.

The decision triggered the sudden tabling of advice from the Solicitor-General, warning the vote could be unconstitutional and triggering questions of confidence and supply in the government. 

Cathy McGowan MP [C] is surrounded by Dr Kerryn Phelps MP, Julia Banks MP and Rebekha Sharkie MP in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra.

Cathy McGowan MP [C] is surrounded by Dr Kerryn Phelps MP, Julia Banks MP and Rebekha Sharkie MP in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra. Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Max Koslowski has been roaming the halls of Parliament looking for wandering crossbenchers. 

Ducking out of her office after enjoying a glass of Aldi bubbly with fellow crossbenchers Julia Banks and Rebekha Sharkie, Kerryn Phelps is cheery but says the job isn’t done:

“This has to get through the Senate. We’ll be watching that space in the next day or two,” she says. “I know how much the people who are sick on Manus Island and Nauru are suffering.”

“Parliament is saying ‘enough is enough’. The ALP and the crossbench felt strongly enough about this to take action.”

Independant MP Kerryn Phelps

Independant MP Kerryn Phelps Credit: Dominic Lorrimer


Morrison hoses down speculation that he would not allow the legislation to gain royal ascent. 

"The bill will follow its normal process," he says. 

In order to become law it needs to be signed off by the Governor General, the royal representative in Australia. 


Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Immigration Minister David Coleman are currently meeting with Border Force. 

The government has been working on a contingency plan in case the bill passed. 

The PM says the election timetable remains. Voters will go back to the polls in May. 


The PM is giving a press conference to reporters in Parliament's blue room. 

"Votes will come and they will go, but they will not trouble me," he says. "My job has been to seek to prevent those bills passing. My job now is to work with border and security agencies to mitigate the risks of these bills." 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the mediaCredit:Alex Ellinghausen


Labor has also indicated that its vote was not a vote of no confidence in the government. 

But it has not ruled out taking such a vote in future. 

Tony Burke says Labor dealt with this "legislation on its merits" and it was up to the PM to decide whether he saw it as a vote of no confidence. 

"When a legislation defeat has been treated a as a vote of no confidence, previous PMs haven't waited," he says.  "They have gone to the Governor General." 

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