Embattled Australian PM suffers historic defeat over refugees

"If we're sending people who really need [help] to Australia already, why make a big deal of it, and why create a symbol that says we're going to get even kinder?"

Canberra then toughened its policy against illegal immigration and in 2012 reopened its asylum processing centres on Nauru and Manus island, keeping asylum seekers out of Australia, and where a thousand remain in conditions widely criticized by medical professionals, rights groups and the UN.

The new legislation, approved by the Senate on Wednesday, dealt a blow to the ruling conservative coalition which is trailing heavily in polls ahead of an election due in May.

Labor also wants the proposed bill to only apply to people now in offshore detention - not new arrivals - and set longer time frames for ministers to make decisions.

"My job now is to do everything within my power, and the power of the government, to ensure that what the Parliament has done to weaken our borders does not result in boats coming to Australia", he said.

Scott Morrison announced $78 million in fresh funding for families escaping domestic abuse, as part of a wider speech about domestic and global security.

Operation Sovereign Borders and other parts of the government's border security operations will be beefed up, with more than $1.4 billion earmarked to be spent over four years.

The laws passed the lower house on Tuesday and look set to pass the Senate on Wednesday, before being given royal assent.

The Opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP) joined forces with the Greens and independent Members of Parliament (MPs) to pass the medical evacuations bill by 75 votes to the governing Liberal-National Party coalition (LNP)'s 74.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten believes he has responded to community concern about sick refugees in detention, and is desperately hoping the ALP's buffer in the polls will be enough to protect it from any backlash on border protection. Morrison had said that the bill would "take control from the government" and "unleash a world of woe". After he left office, the center-left Labor government began holding refugees on Christmas Island. "He doesn't have a lot to campaign on, but on this he is on strong ground", he said. "We don't want the vile people smuggler trade in business, exploiting people's misery", Shorten said.

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".

  • Santos West