Scott Morrison to re-open Christmas Island detention centre after historic bill defeat
Scott Morrison to re-open Christmas Island detention centre after historic bill defeat

PM to re-open Christmas Island detention centre

PRIME Minister Scott Morrison has taken the extraordinary step of reopening the Christmas Island detention centre as the government braces for a new wave of boat arrivals after suffering a historic defeat on the refugee medical evacuation bill yesterday.

The government will also beef up Operation Sovereign Borders with extra resources.

Mr Morrison made the shock announcement this morning after an urgent meeting of the National Security Committee, saying he would adopt all of its recommendations made this morning.

"My job now is to do everything within my power and in 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," Mr Morrison said.

It's the latest dramatic twist after the government's historic defeat on the legislation in parliament yesterday, with Labor and crossbench MPs passing it in the lower house 75 votes to 74.

It was the first time a federal government had lost a vote on a substantive piece of legislation since 1941.

The bill will sail through the Senate this morning with independent Derryn Hinch's support.

"The people smugglers know my resolve. They know Peter Dutton's resolve. They know we will do everything in our power to stop them at every point," Mr Morrison said this morning.

"If they don't come, it will be because of the work and the decisions we are now taking and the actions we are putting in place.

"If they do come, you can thank the Labor Party and Bill Shorten because he is the one who has led this process."

Mr Morrison refused to detail the extra resources being poured into Australia's border protection, saying: "This parliament has already tipped its hand enough to the people smugglers."

But he did reveal the government would reopen Christmas Island detention centre after it was closed last year.

"We have approved putting in place the reopening of the Christmas Island detention facilities, both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers," he told reporters at Parliament House.

Mr Morrison said people smugglers would consider it a "nuance" of the "Canberra bubble" that the medical transfers bill only applies to current refugees on Manus Island and Nauru and would not apply to new arrivals after amendments agreed on yesterday by Labor and the Greens.

He declared the Coalition would reverse the bill if re-elected in May.

"What is true today is, as a result of what happened in the Parliament yesterday and what is happening in the Senate now, our border protection laws are weaker than they were go days ago. That's a fact," he said.

Senator Hinch, whose vote is crucial, had earlier demanded a security briefing on the legislation, creating speculation he may block the bill and give the government a reprive after its major loss yesterday.

The Justice Party senator said it was the "toughest decision" of his time in parliament.

Earlier, he had said: "I just want to see, before I make any decisions, where the bill is at for the moment."

"We haven't actually physically seen the amendments that went through the Senate last night."

Earlier, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton praised Senator Hinch's caution in calling for a security briefing, saying: "It seems to me that Derryn Hinch is showing the leadership that Mr Shorten lacks."

The minister assembled the heads of Australia's security agencies involved in Operation Sovereign Borders to brief Senator Hinch this morning.

"I hope that Mr Hinch, as I'm sure that he will because I think that he is a responsible person and he shows leadership, will heed the advice of the agency heads," Mr Dutton told reporters in Canberra.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham also urged Senator Hinch to block the bill, saying: "It is legislation that sends the signal that the alternative government of Australia is weaker on border protection."

"I would urge Derryn Hinch and every other Senate crossbencher, and frankly Bill Shorten and the Labor Party, to think again about the consequences of this and the necessity of it," Senator Birmingham told Sky News.

Independent Senator Tim Storer, who introduced the original medivac amendments, has revealed he did not receive a briefing from security agencies about the bill and will not seek one.

He will again today give his support for amendments and said he has "no reason to believe" that it will lead to the people smuggling trade resuming.

Bill Shorten has rejected the idea he was trying to "put the welcome mat out" for people smugglers.

Fronting the media for the first time since pushing through legislation which the government says will put Australia's borders in danger, Mr Shorten tried to dispute the attack.

He pressed the point that the legislation only applies to people currently on Nauru or Manus and therefore was not an incentive for people smugglers.

He said he had taken the "point of view" of security agencies on board.

"Last night was about a simple proposition that this government is strong enough to treat people humanely".

The Labor leader's message to Senator Hinch was the bill was stronger than the legislation initially contemplated last December.