Senate remains divided on medevac laws
21 October 2019 at 5:18 pm
Community groups are urging Parliament to save medevac legislation from the scrapheap
The future of asylum seeker medical evacuation laws hang in the balance, with a Senate committee split on whether to scrap the legislation.
A Coalition-dominated committee last Friday recommended the Senate repeal medevac legislation, but Labor, the Greens and Centre Alliance each wrote dissenting reports in favour of the laws.
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 community groups told the committee during a recent Senate inquiry that a medevac repeal would lead to possible deaths and the return to a failed transfer system rife with political interference.
The Human Rights Law Centre said the Senate report showed that the laws were working as intended.
Legal director David Burke said the report highlighted the rigorous work of independent medical specialists when assessing patients.
“In the vast majority of cases, the minister or the independent review panel agreed with those assessments and approved the transfer,” Burke said.
“For the first time in more than six years of indefinite offshore detention, there is a fair, independent and timely process to allow people to receive vital medical treatment and assessment.”
The majority Senate committee said it was concerned that the laws imposed “strictly limited grounds for refusal in relation to security and character concerns”.
“The committee understands the minister has already been forced to approve the transfer of six individuals who were ‘of security or character concern’, because the concerns did not meet the strict grounds upon which the minister may refuse a transfer under the provisions,” the report said.
But Burke rejected these comments, and said the minister could veto any application for specific character or national security reasons.
“The government committee members’ conclusions are more fear mongering about this essential medical process,” he said.
“The minister still has the power to reject applications on character or security grounds. The government is continuing to try to distract from what is at the heart of these laws – that medical decisions should be made by doctors not politicians.”
Given the divided views on the legislation, independent Senator Jacqui Lambie will determine the outcome of the attempted repeal but is yet to make her decision.