Frustration as refugee bill stagnates in parliament

Paul Hayes

7/12/2018 3:58:21 PM

Advocates have expressed disappointment that the bill to get sick refugees off Nauru and Manus Island failed to pass the Senate.

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Penny Wong speaks to the leader of the Government in the Senate Mathias Cormann during debate on the Medical Evacuation Bill. (Image: Lukas Coch)
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Penny Wong speaks to the leader of the Government in the Senate Mathias Cormann during debate on the Medical Evacuation Bill. (Image: Lukas Coch)

‘It is very disappointing that the Federal Government has chosen, once again, to put politics ahead of people at this critical juncture,’ Dr Kate Walker, GP and Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Refugee Health network, told newsGP.
‘The healthcare needs of the asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus Island are extremely serious.
‘Twelve asylum seekers and refugees have died in the regional processing centres of Nauru and Manus Island in the past five years. The coroner has reported the current systems around asylum seekers’ healthcare on Manus Island have contributed to preventable death.
‘The bill will help to prevent more deaths occurring in regional processing centres.’
MP Dr Kerryn Phelps’ Urgent Medical Treatment Bill allows for the transfer of unwell asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and Manus Island who are not receiving appropriate medical or psychiatric assessment or treatment. It was introduced to Parliament earlier this week and has the support of many of Australia’s medical colleges.
The bill failed to pass, however, on what was Parliament’s final sitting day of the year when the Federal Government successfully held off a cross-party push from Labor, the Greens and members of the crossbench. The bill was delayed in the Senate for several hours and was ultimately unable to  be brought to a vote.
Supporters of the bill say its success will mean a fair and more rapid avenue via which to transfer refugees and their families to Australia for necessary medical attention, while the Government argues it will invite people smugglers and endanger Australia’s national security.
Under the proposed bill, the medical transfer of a person on Nauru or Manus Island should occur if two doctors agree it is necessary. The Immigration Minister would then have a 24-hour period in which to block the transfer if they believe it is unnecessary or the person represents a threat to security.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the bill would inflict major damage on Australia’s offshore processing regime and signal to people smugglers they could again target Australia.
‘They’ll hear the people smuggler who sails up to them and says, “Guess what, the Australians have changed the legislation, you won’t have to stay on Nauru or Manus. All you have to do is get some doctor in Australia to sign it off and it’s all good, mate. It’s all good”,’ Prime Minister Morrison said.
‘And then they’ll be on their way. They’ll be selling the tickets again. I know this, I lived it, I understand the intelligence that sits behind it.’
Dr Walker said she is dismayed with the delay to the bill.
‘This should not be a political argument,’ she said.
‘People accessing their human right to seek asylum, as secured by the UN [United Nations], must be able to receive the proper level of healthcare, without the unacceptable levels of political scrutiny that have been occurring.’
In addition, many other Australian advocates have expressed their dissatisfaction at the delay of the bill.
‘It is extremely disappointing that these amendments to ensure the timely medical assessment, treatment and transfer of refugees and asylum seekers in offshore detention have stalled in Parliament,’ Jennifer Kanis, social justice practice manager at the Maurice Blackburn law firm, said.
‘In failing to extend the parliamentary sitting to allow for both houses to vote on this bill before the end of the year, it appears the Government is putting politics before the health and wellbeing of refugees in its care.’
GetUp Human Rights Director Shen Narayanasamy believes the Government has ‘put the lives of women, men and children at risk’.
‘The legislation – championed by the ALP, Greens and the crossbench – mirrors what the majority of everyday people want our politicians to do: comply with doctors’ orders; fly the men, women and children held hostage on Nauru and Manus Island for treatment in Australia,’ she said.
‘Children and adults could die as a result of these terrible parliamentary antics.’

manus island nauru refugee health urgent medical treatment bill


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