Immigration

Bill Shorten appears to back away from medical transfers for asylum seekers

Bill Shorten wants to find "middle ground" over a bill on medical transfers for asylum seekers (AAP)

Labor will consider a "middle ground" on medical transfers for asylum seekers in offshore detention after warnings from security agencies.

Labor will look at advice from security agencies warning against a bill on medical transfers for asylum seekers as the party searches for "middle ground" with the government.

The bill, which would ensure two specially-appointed doctors can request medical transfers for offshore asylum seekers to Australia, is due to return to the lower house on Tuesday.

Labor voted for it in the Senate and had indicated its support in the lower house, but Labor leader Bill Shorten appeared to back away from it on Friday.

"I do think if there's middle ground, we should try and find it," he told reporters in Sydney.

"This is all about making sure that people in our care, no matter what the circumstances, receive appropriate medical quality care - that's what's driving us."

The government this week accused Mr Shorten of ignoring an offered briefing from ASIO, which has warned the proposed laws will threaten Australia's border security.

Mr Shorten will have the briefing in Canberra next week.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he hopes the Labor leader will listen to the advice, reiterating the government would not be backing the amended laws.

"Anyone who is supporting this bill is not for stronger borders," Mr Morrison said.

Under pressure from non-government MPs and moderate Liberals, Mr Morrison has also softened his stance.
He proposed a medical transfer clinical assurance panel to review decisions where refugees and asylum seekers have been denied medical transfers when recommended by treating doctors.

On Saturday the government remained "resolute" in opposing the bill and released advice from the Home Affairs department to support their stance.

The advice said the Christmas Island detention centre would need to be reopened because "1000 people in held detention will put pressure on the detention network and with risk assessments, some, but not all, may be suitable for community".

It said the estimated cost of medically transferring 1000 people from Manus and Nauru would be about $1.4 billion over five years, which includes the amount needed to re-open the Christmas Island facility.

Mr Morrison hit back at Labor's position, arguing there was "no middle ground".

"There is no form of this bill that is acceptable", he said.

"This bill is folly. This bill however positively it might be motivated by some, its detail, its construction, can only unpick, undermine the strong border protection framework that we have worked hard to put in place and that has been successful."

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