Over the weekend, voters in a parliamentary district outside Sydney handed the government a stinging defeat. The loss of the once safe seat will force some important changes in Canberra, including Australia’s controversial refugee policy.
In an appearance on Australia’s ABC on Monday, Kerryn Phelps attributed her victory to her stance on refugees. “The people have spoken on this issue,” she said, “I think the handwriting is on the wall.”
Already, the government says it’s ready to accept an offer from New Zealand to take in 150 refugees from Nauru. So far, it continues to insist on a provision that would bar them from ever traveling to Australia, but that, too may be modified in talks with the opposition Labor and Greens parties.
And the government needs at least some support from its opponents because the loss of the seat in Wentworth also cost the coalition its one seat majority in the lower house. It can continue to govern as a minority, but will need votes from either the opposition parties or from some of the seven unaffiliated independents to pass any legislation.
New opinion polls show a massive drop in support for the government. A general election is not expected until May; if it were held today, the coalition could lose 25 seats.
The likely first step on Nauru will involve the 52 children still housed in the notorious camp. Eleven other minors were quietly relocated to Australia for medical treatment over the past few days. The Chief Medical officer of Australia’s Border Force told a Senate Committee on Monday that there’s been significant increase in mental and physical problems, speculating that after languishing five years on Nauru, people’s resilience had broken down.