Jacqui Lambie Tearfully Claims There Was A Secret Medevac Deal With Coalition
The vital refugee medevac laws are dead, with the government's claims there was "no secret deal" torpedoed by maverick senator Jacqui Lambie, who tearfully said there absolutely was.
The government has long hoped to overturn legislation allowing the medical evacuation of refugees and asylum seekers from Manus Island or Nauru to Australia for health treatment, which was passed late last year.
Now, the government is being accused of "disgraceful" conduct over an alleged "secret deal" with independent Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, who said she can't speak about the situation due to national security concerns.
The push to shred the laws passed the House of Representatives in July but was stymied in the Senate, where the government does not hold a majority. The vote was tied, with Lambie the crucial swing vote.
She had previously said she did not believe Australia's border protection regime "is undermined by the presence of medevac", but last week, signalled she may vote with the government if they met one critical condition of hers -- which she kept secret from the public and media.
On Wednesday, the government halted debate of the medevac bill in the Senate and brought on a vote, a sign they believed they had the numbers to win. Senators were asked to vote on specific amendments, proposed in consultation with Lambie, which they had not seen -- leading Labor and Greens senators to accuse their opponents of a "secret deal".
Government Senate leader Mathias Cormann had told the chamber there was "no secret deal" -- but just minutes later, Lambie tearfully confirmed her conditions for supporting the government had been met, but that she would not be revealing what she asked for.
"I'm not being coy or silly when I say I genuinely can't say what I proposed. I know that's frustrating to people," Lambie said.
"But when I say I can't discuss it publicly due to national security concerns, I am being 100 percent honest to you. My hand is on my heart and I can stand here and say that I would be putting at risk Australia's national security and national interest if I said anything else about this."
Lambie admitted medevac "is not a national security threat" but claimed "there are real problems with the way it's operating... they cannot be amended away."
"We've worked to an outcome I believe we both want, which is an outcome that our borders are secure, the boats have stopped and sick people aren't dying waiting for treatment," she said.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale called the confusion and deal a "disgraceful" situation, claiming "someone is misleading the Senate".
"Someone’s lying here. Either Senator Lambie is lying or the government is lying. It’s very clear," he told a press conference following the vote succeeding.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, at a later press conference, again claimed there had been no "deal" struck with Lambie -- saying the only thing they had promised her was "the assurance the government will implement their policies."
"We have outlined the decisions and the policies that the government has taken and how we are influencing those and she's been pleased about that and has supported the bill," Morrison said.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese accused the Coalition of having "no heart" in repealing the medevac framework.
Lambie said she put a proposal to the government, and worked together on the final wording.
"We've worked to an outcome I believe we both want, which is an outcome that our borders are secure, the boats have stopped and sick people aren't dying waiting for treatment," Lambie continued.
"As a result of that work, I am satisfied, I am more than satisfied that the conditions are now in place to allow medevac to be repealed."
Cormann had claimed there would be "no change" in the government's stance, in shooting down claims of a deal with Lambie.
"There is no secret deal. There will be no change to our strong border protection arrangements," he said just minutes before Lambie tearfully confirmed her conditions had been met.
Shamindan Kanapathi, a refugee who has been on Manus Island for seven years, reacted sadly to the news, claiming it was a "dark day".
More to come.