Community groups urge Parliament to support Medevac laws
26 August 2019 at 4:57 pm
Dismantling medical evacuation laws for asylum seekers and refugees may lead to more people dying needlessly on Manus Island and Nauru, a Senate inquiry has heard.
Community groups slammed the Morrison government’s push to repeal medevac legislation during a public hearing on Monday, arguing it would deprive vulnerable people of vital medical care.
The government believes medevac laws – which give doctors a greater say in granting medical transfers to Australia – pose an unacceptable risk to the nation’s border protection regime and will result in asylum seeker boats coming to Australia again and more deaths at sea.
But Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) spokesperson Marcella Brassett, told Pro Bono News this was nothing more than scaremongering from the government.
She said Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s reopening of Christmas Island was a waste of millions of dollars because medevac laws had not actually led to a surge in boat arrivals.
“The prime minister and the minister for home affairs are being disingenuous and really spreading misinformation and using this issue for political gain rather than focusing on providing medical care to people under their watch,” Brassett said.
ASRC and the National Justice Project presented evidence to the inquiry that said a medevac repeal would lead to possible deaths and the return to a failed transfer system rife with political interference.
Brassett said at least two people have died from medical neglect because of lengthy government delays and blocks to the transfer process.
“The risk is that if the minister is allowed to politically interfere in medical transfers again with the repeal of the medevac legislation, then more people will die and there will not be a robust, medically-led process,” she said.
“We will see far more delays and blocks again. And lawyers will have to go to court in lengthy proceedings, taking up resources of the court and pro bono hours to get people vital medical care.”
Legal groups also expressed their support for medevac laws during the hearing.
Human Rights Law Centre executive director Hugh de Kretser urged Parliament not to repeal the legislation.
He said forcing sick people to rely on the court system to get urgent medical treatment was not a good system of care in anyone’s books.
“The medevac laws are working. Removing a fair, transparent and doctor-led process for accessing essential, and in many cases, life-saving medical care is cruel and unnecessary,” de Kretser said.
“Repealing the medevac laws will increase the risk of more people dying on Nauru and Manus.”
The Law Council of Australia said in its submission to the inquiry that while it supported medevac laws, there were a number of changes that could be made to close perceived legal “loopholes”.
This includes an amendment to ensure those brought to Australia are removed from the country when their medical issues are dealt with.
But Law Council president, Arthur Moses SC, said the laws would not open the floodgates to asylum seeker arrivals.
“Medevac is designed to ensure those in serious medical [need] can come to Australia for essential treatment quickly,” Moses said.
“[It] provides a clear and formalised process whereby a decision to transfer for medical purposes is treated as a medical decision and should not be repealed.”
Since medevac laws passed in February this year, 130 people have been approved for transfer to Australia.