Morrison starts the year with a psalm

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Twomey said the Coalition's assertion that the medevac bill was a money bill made it more likely its successful passage could be considered a de facto vote of no confidence in the government - an analysis the government categorically rejects.

The Australian government has lost control of the parliament for the first time in nearly a century, losing a major vote on a bill to help evacuate critically ill refugees from offshore processing centers.

It released legal advice suggesting the bill is unconstitutional because the changes require spending of taxpayer dollars, to appoint a medical panel to oversee the transfers.

The opposition Labor Party and a group of independent MPs supported the legislation.

Morrison's own approval rating gained 2 points, however, against Labor leader Bill Shorten, climbing to 44 percent from 35 percent.

"I believe we can keep our borders secure, we can uphold national security, but still treat people humanely", Labor leader Bill Shorten told parliament on Tuesday.

"Our opponents have plans that will make Australia weaker, to weaken the economy, to weaken our borders", Mr Morrison said.

'I remind them that their humanitarianism, as supposed, last time led to child deaths, it led to the total destruction of our borders and it took the strength again of a coalition government, ' he yelled across the chamber. "This is now on your head, Leader of the Opposition". They have learned nothing from their past failures and can not be trusted to keep our borders and Australia strong.

"The Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs are meeting now with our Border Protection Command to work through the contingency planning that we have been putting in place for this outcome".

His explosive comments come less than three months out from the federal election.

Under the new amendments, a medical panel of two doctors would assess requests for medical transfers from Manus Island and Nauru.

These widen the grounds on which a minister could refuse a transfer to cover those with a substantial criminal record, allow the minister up to 72 hours (instead of 24) for making a decision on transfers, and confine the application of the legislation to the present cohort of refugees and asylum seekers.

"Let Your compassion come to me that I may live, for Your law is my delight", the prime minister read at the annual church service to mark parliament's return.

The doctors were due to be paid under the original proposal - but Labor's late change to exclude remuneration means the bill can not be rejected on constitutional grounds.

A medical panel of two doctors would assess requests for medical transfers of people now on Manus Island and Nauru, but not new arrivals.

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