Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten speaks to the media during a doorstop interview after attending the International Women's Day breakfast at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: AAP
Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten speaks to the media during a doorstop interview after attending the International Women's Day breakfast at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture: AAP

Christmas Island move ‘hysteria’

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's bid to reopen the Christmas Island detention centre was purely a political move to "whip up fear and hysteria" that could have "tragic consequences", Bill Shorten says.

A war of words is heating up between the two leaders over border protection after Labor passed a medical evacuations bill for refugees yesterday.

Mr Shorten brushed off the potential for a Tampa "children overboard" style scare campaign to become an election deciding issue.

"I think this country in 2019 is not the same nation as 2001," he told reporters in Canberra.

"I do not believe that Australians want a government which governs by slogans and fear.

"Strong borders does not need to come at the price of humane treatment of people who've been in our care for half a decade or more.

"I totally repudiate the attacks of the Government, seeking to whip up fear and hysteria, seeking to lure people smugglers to entice people onto boats to come to Australia."

The Labor leader said the Coalition should be "ashamed of themselves for luring people to Australia by somehow implying that this Government hasn't got strong borders".

"The opening of Christmas Island, I believe, was a political gesture designed to fuel domestic political unrest but I'm worried that we'll have tragic consequences because this is a government addicted to slogans and fear," he added.

 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison shakes hands with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten during the International Women's Day breakfast. Picture: AAP
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison shakes hands with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten during the International Women's Day breakfast. Picture: AAP

 

NEW MEASURES 'IRRELEVANT'

Defence Minister Christopher Pyne today argued it was "irrelevant" that new medical evacuation laws would only apply to asylum seekers who are already in offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru.

It comes after intelligence sources reportedly warned "the beast is stirring", meaning the people smuggling trade, after the law passed the Senate yesterday 36 votes to 34.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also said people smugglers were already using the law changes in their marketing.

"It should come as no surprise to people that people smugglers have heard what is going on," Mr Dutton said. "It should come as no surprise to people that people smugglers have heard what is going on."

 

Andrew Wilkie talking with Christopher Pyne during Question Time in the House of Representatives Chamber at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture Kym Smith
Andrew Wilkie talking with Christopher Pyne during Question Time in the House of Representatives Chamber at Parliament House in Canberra. Picture Kym Smith

 

Mr Dutton said any new arrivals would go to Nauru, but added it was also possible medical transferees could end up on Christmas Island, where the detention centre will be reopened after closing in October last year.

Christmas Island's local council has warned its small regional hospital is not set up to handle asylum seekers with complex medical needs.

Local council chief executive David Price said the hospital was so small it made more sense to send sick asylum seekers straight to the mainland.

Under the new laws, the home affairs minister can reject medical transfers if the person poses a threat to the Australian community.

- with AAP