Bill Shorten has backflipped on shipping sick asylum seekers to Christmas Island instead of Australia.
The Labor leader declared sending asylum seekers to the remote outpost “fine” last week before senior MPs, including his deputy Tanya Plibersek and Christmas Island locals, raised concerns about the medical facilities.
But on Sunday Mr Shorten shifted again, conceding the facilities are not up to the task.
“The reality is that Christmas Island doesn’t have very much in the way of medical care,” he said.
“If the government want to just have some political debate and move a whole lot of resources and build hospitals there, I think that shows you they’re not fair dinkum.”
Christmas Island administrator Natasha Griggs, who is also a former Liberal MP, told The New Daily she wanted to ensure the community’s concerns were taken into account.
“This week I meet with the Prime Minister, Home Affairs Minister and Territories Assistant Minister to discuss a broad range of issues which included the reopening of the immigration detention centre on Christmas Island,” she said.
“I can confirm that I am working closely with the various Australian government departments, particularly the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities, to manage the impact of increased activity on Christmas Island.”
Last week, Mr Shorten said: “If the medical treatment is required and it’s delivered on Christmas Island and it makes people well, well that’s fine.”
He later confessed on ABC radio that he had described the arrangement as “fine” because he didn’t want to talk about offshore processing.
Attorney-General Christian Porter mocked the Labor leader’s claim that Christmas Island was “fine” in Parliament last week.
But the Morrison government’s threats to send asylum seekers from Manus Island and Nauru to Christmas Island is regarded by refugee activists as another way of circumventing the intent of the legislation that passed Parliament.
“The government believes that we can provide all of the medical support required on Christmas Island,” Senator Birmingham told Sky News on Sunday.
“This is about trying to ensure we maintain a strong protection ring around Australia in terms of our borders as we possibly can.”
Earlier, Labor frontbencher Tony Burke also raised concerns over the capability of Christmas Island to cope with a sudden influx of asylum seekers.
“Bill was focusing on our priority [which] is, not the location, it’s the standard of healthcare,” he told ABC TV.
“People should go where the medical care can be delivered, that’s required and at the most affordable place.”