The Senate is preparing to launch a plan B for the evacuation of asylum seeker children and their families on Nauru that could secure a breakthrough before Christmas.
The New Daily understands the Morrison government is preparing to shut down debate on legislation to allow medical evacuations for all remaining children on Nauru and eligible adults – ending hopes of a resolution in the final sitting week of the year.
But the hope of quashing the debate could be disrupted by the Senate, where the Greens are trying to amend existing legislation that could secure the numbers to deliver the same change.
The political brinkmanship is designed to get around the problem of securing an absolute majority in the House of Representatives.
MPs backing the medical evacuation of asylum seekers face a higher bar – an absolute majority or 76 votes in the 150-seat Parliament.
That’s near impossible because Labor has agreed to “pair” Peter Dutton’s vote because he is on medical leave and Labor’s Jenny Macklin is overseas.
That means Labor is down to 67 votes. Even if the six crossbenchers support the legislation, it would still have only 73 votes and would require three or more Liberal MPs to cross the floor.
However, the amendments are not dead, according to MPs familiar with the plan B proposal.
The Greens plan is to amend existing Home Affairs legislation to ensure children can be evacuated, and send those laws back to the House of Representatives.
“Those children have suffered enough,” Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told the Senate on Tuesday.
“It is just unnecessary brutality. Well, I don’t think it’s very tough to keep helpless, vulnerable refugees and children locked up on island prisons.”
If the Senate agrees to amend the existing legislation to achieve the same result as Wentworth MP Kerryn Phelps’ bill, supporters of the plan would require only a simple majority in the House of Representatives.
With 73 votes already locked in for the change, the combined vote could get over the line.
In the event of a tied vote, the Speaker could use his casting vote but only to adopt a no change position. That would effectively knock the bill off.
Independent Dr Phelps announced her bill last week, describing the situation on Nauru as a medical emergency
“This is a humanitarian crisis, this is a medical solution and it is something that will not affect border protection. It will not affect other government policies,” she later told a media conference at Parliament House.
“It is really about getting the right kind of medical and psychiatric care for people who are suffering.”
Dr Phelps’ bill would force the evacuation of all children from Nauru, and the temporary medical transfer of sick adults from Nauru and Manus.