News National Kerryn Phelps in legal push to remove children from Nauru
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Kerryn Phelps in legal push to remove children from Nauru

phelps nauru children
Kerryn Phelps is trying to force debate on a move to have refugee children taken from Nauru. Photo: AAP
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Independent MP Kerryn Phelps will introduce new laws next week to force the evacuation of the remaining children from Nauru and the medical evacuation of adult asylum seekers.

The New Daily has confirmed Dr Phelps has given notice to the House of Representatives that she will introduce a private members’ bill seeking to amend the Migration Act.

It’s understood that less than a dozen children remain on Nauru. The legislation also hopes to force medical evacuations for seriously ill adults.

Activists hope Dr Phelps’ legislation will be able to secure the support of other crossbenchers. But it will test Labor’s support for the humanitarian measures.

In the latest test of the Morrison government’s control of Parliament, Dr Phelps will seek the support of the opposition to force debate on the bill before Christmas.

In her maiden speech this week, Dr Phelps – the new independent member for Wentworth – described the offshore processing regime as a national shame.

“Australia’s treatment of asylum-seekers is a source of shame and sorrow for me and for many thousands of my medical colleagues and other Australians. This cruel treatment of asylum-seekers asking Australia for help … ignores the human experience at the heart of the policy of offshore processing and indefinite confinement on Manus Island and Nauru,” she said.

“No longer can we tolerate our government holding the lives of these children and their families to ransom to make a point about maritime arrivals. Yes, we need strong border protection.

But it is not – and must not be – a choice between deaths at sea and indefinite offshore confinement.

“There is a mismatch between what the Australian government has been doing and what the majority of the people of Australia want, and this must be resolved. We must find a compassionate compromise.”

Dr Phelps’ challenge to the major parties is sure to win the support of former Liberal MP and new independent Julia Banks, who has also expressed concern for the plight of children on Nauru.

By putting her intention to introduce the legislation on the notice paper, Dr Phelps has ensured the selection committee for bills can consider it for next week.

The move is likely to test the mettle of Labor and the Liberals because of divisions about offshore processing in both parties.

Any Labor opposition to debate is likely to anger some within the party’s left who are calling for a more compassionate response.

Parliament could debate the legislation quickly if it chose to do so. However, it would require an absolute majority – 76 votes on the floor of the chamber – to suspend standing orders and have debate without the government’s approval.

This appears impossible unless Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton returns from sick leave next week. His missing vote is “paired” with a Labor MP, which means it will be difficult to reach 76 votes even with the back of Labor, the Greens and independents – unless a Liberal MP is prepared to cross the floor.

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