Community Groups Slam Government’s Medical Review Panel Proposal
6 February 2019 at 5:21 pm
Refugee advocates have slammed a government proposal for an independent medical review panel to oversee transfers of asylum seekers, concerned it would still give bureaucrats the ultimate say over medical decisions for critically sick people.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s proposal was offered as a compromise to a bill from independent MP Kerryn Phelps, which would allow refugees on Manus Island and Nauru to come to Australia for medical treatment if this was recommended by two doctors.
The bill has already passed the Senate, and the government faces a humiliating defeat on the floor of Parliament next week if the opposition and the crossbench can secure enough support to win a lower house vote.
Morrison’s proposal would mimic a key component of Phelps’ bill by creating a medical transfer clinical assurance panel to oversee the Department of Home Affairs’ transfer decisions.
But while Phelps has argued that “clinicians rather than bureaucrats” should make medical decisions about transfers, the government’s proposed panel would scrutinise decisions rather than overturn them.
This has led a coalition of community groups – the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the Human Rights Law Centre, GetUp, the Refugee Council of Australia, World Vision Australia and Welcoming Australia – to reject the proposal, labelling it “window dressing on the existing unconscionable process”.
JOINT MEDIA RELEASE
Refugee advocates, lawyers and human rights groups unite in rejecting Government’s medical panel proposal.@ASRC1, @OzRefugeeCounc, @WorldVisionAus, @rightsagenda, @GetUp, @welcome2aussie#BacktheBill #SafeandFree
— World Vision Aus News (@WVAnews) February 4, 2019
In a statement, the coalition said the proposal did not make the necessary changes to ensure people in offshore detention were provided with adequate medical care.
“As it stands, politicians and bureaucrats can override doctors’ orders about treatment of sick refugees in offshore detention,” the statement said.
“[The panel] will be hand-picked by the minister, with no assurance as to the independence of its members, whereas the [Phelps] bill would provide for review of the minister’s decisions by an independent medical panel including members nominated by peak medical bodies.”
The community groups said the Phelps bill was the only enforceable mechanism that ensured people got life-saving medical treatment urgently.
Jana Favero, director of advocacy and campaigns at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said the prime minister had not provided any information on how long his panel would take to review doctor’s transfer requests.
“Will he make critically sick people wait for another three months? Or another three years?” Favero said.
“This is not a solution to the medical crisis in offshore processing, it is a last-ditch effort to divide cross bench and Labor MPs, all just to save the face of a dying government while people on Manus and Nauru continue to mentally and physically deteriorate to the point of being at risk of dying from medical neglect.”
Thank you to these MPs for staying strong to #BackTheBill as the Prime Minister rants and raves trying to scare Australians about ‘100s’ of critically sick people he and Peter Dutton MP has kept without proper doctors offshore for six years. Enough delays, enough political games https://t.co/YZBxX7OvHd
— ASRC (@ASRC1) February 4, 2019
Brad Chilcott, the founder of Welcoming Australia, said the Phelps bill had wide support and should be endorsed by the government.
“It’s supported by doctors, lawyers, humanitarian, refugee and community services organisations and hundreds of thousands of Australians,” Chilcott said.
“If Prime Minister Morrison was serious about alleviating the suffering of people in indefinite detention he would simply back this bill today and enshrine it in legislation at the first opportunity.”
If the Coalition loses a lower house vote on the bill, it would be the first time since 1929 a sitting government has lost a substantive legislative vote on the floor.
But Morrison told Sky News on Tuesday a lost vote would not compel the government to call an early election.
“If we lose that vote next week, so be it. We won’t be going off to the polls,” Morrison said.
“The election is in May. I will simply ignore it and we’ll get on with the business.”