More than 5,000 doctors urge Jacqui Lambie to 'save medevac' in open letter to Parliament

More than 5,000 doctors have delivered an open letter to Parliament urging politicians to "save medevac" amid a push by the Federal Government to amend the medical transfer system.

Paediatrician Professor David Isaacs and 13 colleagues at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.

Paediatrician Professor David Isaacs and 13 colleagues at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra. Source: AAP

More than 5,000 doctors have signed an open letter urging Senate crossbencher Jacqui Lambie to save the so-called "medevac" laws.

The doctors descended on Canberra on Wednesday morning demanding the protection of refugee transfer laws that allow medical professionals to refer detainees in offshore processing for treatment or assessment in Australia.

Over 5000 Australian doctors are calling on Parliament to save Medevac.
Over 5000 Australian doctors are calling on Parliament to save Medevac. Source: AAP

Their plea is warning against the Morrison government’s push to repeal medevac legislation, which passed against the Coalition’s wishes in February this year.

The Federal Government believes existing medical transfer provisions were adequate before being overhauled.

But doctors are urging independent Senator Jacqui Lambie use her casting vote in the Senate to protect the current system.

“People are dying on Manus Island and Nauru, and it’s extremely important that doctors are the ones who decide who comes to Australia for urgent medical care, not politicians,” Professor David Isaacs said.

The future of medevac hangs in the balance with the Senate expected to debate amending the laws over the next fortnight.

Doctors have requested more than 150 such refugee transfers since the laws were passed earlier this year.

Professor David Isaacs is a paediatrician and fellow of the Royal Australian College of Physicians, one of 13 medical colleges along with the Australian Medical Association supporting the open letter.

He said the current system ensures those in need of medical treatment in offshore processing get access to the help they need.

“We all say that medevac saves lives so please keep medevac,” he said.

“If they are desperately ill and if appropriate medical help is not there on Manus or Naru then sometimes they have to come to Australia for urgent care.”

Paediatrician Professor David Isaacs.
Paediatrician Professor David Isaacs. Source: AAP

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton strongly opposes the contentious legislation saying it weakens national border protection by limiting his discretionary powers.

Mr Dutton can use national security as grounds to reject an individual medevac transfer, but previous rules gave him more discretion to turn away transferees over criminal history and character concerns.

But Professor Isaacs said the medical transfer system before medevac laws were put in place was not working adequately. 

“We have had children arrive and end up in intensive care they were so sick and yet their transfer was being blocked,” he said.

“So what I'm saying is that we can't rely on politicians and bureaucrats to decide who should come.”

The Morrison government's attempt to repeal medevac laws has the support of crossbench senators Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi.

Meanwhile, Labor, the Greens, and Centre Alliance oppose repealing the legislation.

Senator Lambie is yet to state publicly her position but has hinted she could be open to amending the laws without supporting the government's full repeal.

But Professor Isaacs wants no changes to the current regime.

“Senator Lambie has talked about humanity and this is a chance for the Parliament to show that humanity,” he said.

"Doctors are saying please keep the medevac bill as it is - the medevac bill is working it is saving lives it is getting desperately ill people to Australia."

3 min read
Published 27 November 2019 at 12:09pm