Crossbenchers team up with Labor to sink PM Scott Morrison on Medivac Bill

HIGH STAKES: Cathy McGowan and fellow crossbenchers joined forces with Labor to defeat the government on medical transfers for refugees.
HIGH STAKES: Cathy McGowan and fellow crossbenchers joined forces with Labor to defeat the government on medical transfers for refugees.

Indi MP Cathy McGowan has played a pivotal role in Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government being rolled on the medical transfer bill which hands refugees on Manus Island and Nauru a swifter passage to medical help in Australia.

After weeks of speculation whether she would back the “Medivac” bill proposed by fellow independent, Dr Kerryn Phelps, or side with the government to prevent a humiliating defeat in parliament, Ms McGowan finally made her position clear on a day of high drama in Canberra.

Labor and crossbenchers including Ms McGowan voted 75-74 on all amendments.

Ms McGowan didn’t comment after the historic vote, but beforehand said: “I have been working with my Labor and cross (bench) colleagues to come to an agreement on the legislation and amendments to enable the urgent medical transfer of refugees.

“I intend to support this negotiated position when the legislation and amendments come to the house.”

The highly anticipated vote was temporarily halted when advice from the Solicitor General was tabled declaring the bill passed in the Senate last year was “unconstitutional”.

Earlier, Ms McGowan had acknowledged the extensive interest in the legislation from her constituents, the wider community and media including more than 400 letters, emails or other correspondence sent to her office overwhelmingly in support of the medical transfers bill since mid-January.

Indi Liberal candidate Steve Martin was in Canberra on Tuesday on campaign business and witnessed the drama unfold.

“It is disappointing that despite the past experience, the crossbench has supported Labor in yet again picking apart a policy that has brought stability to our borders,” he said.

“There are medical facilities on Nauru and existing provisions for evacuation for emergency medical needs.

“The advice from intelligence agencies was clear that the changes would weaken our border protection policies.

“There are currently no children in detention, no deaths at sea.”