Australia

'Blood on their hands': Medevac debate begins in Senate as supporters warn against repeal

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Supporters of the medevac laws have told the Senate that repeal efforts are 'inhumane' and 'un-Australian'.

The Senate started to debate the contentious medevac laws on Monday, with supporters continuing to warn against repeal efforts.

Greens Senator Nick McKim urged senators not to support a repeal, saying anyone who does will have “blood on their hands”.

The Coalition is locked in negotiations with independent Senator Jacqui Lambie as it tries to unwind the legislation.

Greens Senator Nick McKim.
Greens Senator Nick McKim.
AAP

Senator McKim said medevac had improved the medical transfer of refugees in offshore processing.

“Anybody who does support the repeal of medevac can expect to have blood on their hands, more blood than they’ve already got on their bloody, bloody hands,” he told the Senate.  

“Doctors should make these decisions, not politicians and bureaucrats.”

While Greens leader Richard Di Natale said those in offshore sites had become “Australia's own political prisoners”.

“As justice delayed is justice denied ... healthcare delayed is healthcare denied,” he said.

Medevac laws pushed through parliament against the government’s wishes in February give doctors a greater say in bringing refugees in offshore locations to Australia for medical treatment.

The Morrison government's repeal attempt is known as the Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019.

Labor Home Affairs spokesperson Senator Kristina Keneally said there is “nothing to repair” when it comes to the medical transfers of “sick people.”

“Denying people medical care is un-Australian. It’s inhumane,” she told the Senate.

“And vulnerable people in Australia’s care who have already suffered significant trauma in their lives should not be forced to the brink of death to receive the medical treatment they require.”

Opposition Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally.
Opposition Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally.
AAP

But the Coalition claims these laws have weakened border protection by limiting Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s discretionary powers.

Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker told the Senate that medevac's “real purpose is to dismantle the offshore processing regime, pushed by people whose political disposition is for open doors, there's no other way you can cut it”.

“Medevac is ruining our strong border protection regime,” she said.

Earlier, Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann told reporters in Canberra, “we will most certainly put the medevac repeal legislation to a vote this week”.

“Every individual senator has to make a decision: whether they stand on the side of stronger national security or weaker national security.”

Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann in Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra.
Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann in Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra.
AAP

Under medevac, two treating doctors can recommend a medical transfer to the Department of Home Affairs.

The request is then considered by the Minister for Home Affairs, who can deny this on national security grounds or if they have concerns on serious character grounds.

The Minister can also deny on health grounds – in this event it goes to the Independent Health Advice Panel for review.

Senator Lambie has offered to back the repeal bill on one condition but will not say what that is, claiming it holds national security implications.

It is believed the condition could centre on the government accepting New Zealand's longstanding offer to resettle some asylum seekers in offshore detention.

The government has for many years declined to accept the offer, fearing it could send a signal to people smugglers.

And the Prime Minister is not about to change his mind on the New Zealand offer.

"Our policies on those matters haven't changed," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

Thirteen medical colleges and more than 5,000 doctors have warned against any attempt to wind back the medevac laws.

Senator McKim said the legislation has “saved lives” and delivered medical treatment to people that “desperately needed” it.

“The Prime Minster, if he got sick, would he go and see a doctor or would he go and see the Minister for Immigration?” he said.

“[The] previous refusal to transfer sick people from Manus Island and Nauru here to Australia under previous arrangements caused death, it caused mental anguish and it caused untold suffering.”

But the Morrison government argues existing medical transfer provisions were adequate before the medevac laws were put in place.

Since these laws were passed more than 179 people have been transferred to Australia from Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

There are just over 200 refugees and asylum seekers left on PNG and more than 250 remaining on Nauru.

Additional reporting: AAP

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