Immigration

Doctors urge Labor to 'stand firm' on asylum seekers' medical treatment

NSW Doctor Sara Townend (2nd R) and Australian Medical Association Federal Executive Dr Paul Bauertat (R) with other young doctors at Parliament House. Source: AAP

Labor has indicated it wants the minister to have the final say on who comes to Australia for medical treatment.

Doctors are urging Labor not to water down proposed legislation to make it easier for sick asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru to get medical treatment in Australia.

Labor has indicated it will support the bill, but is considering a compromise to ensure the minister, rather than doctors or an advisory panel, has the final say on who is transferred to Australia.

NSW Doctor Sara Townend with other young doctors at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra
NSW Doctor Sara Townend with other young doctors at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra

Flanked by about 20 doctors at Parliament House on Monday, Paul Bauert from the Australian Medical Association said they were frustrated by the politicking.   

“People’s lives are at stake, the politicking must stop,” Dr Bauert said.  

While Labor backed the bill in the Senate late year, senior Opposition MPs say they expect to have further discussions following Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s security briefing on Tuesday morning.

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Pyne claims 1,000 asylum seekers will abuse system
Pyne claims 1,000 asylum seekers will abuse system

“If we need to tweak the legislation then by all means we should be able to do that in order to get an outcome,” opposition infrastructure spokesperson Anthony Albanese told ABC radio on Monday morning.

Doctors visited Parliament House to urge politicians to back a bill to make it easier for critically ill asylum seekers to be transferred to Australia.
Doctors visited Parliament House to urge politicians to back a bill to make it easier for critically ill asylum seekers to be transferred to Australia.
AAP

But Dr Bauert said changes were not necessary and risked making the situation worse for critically ill asylum seekers.

“I think any tweaking is going to put us into a situation where we are worse off than we were. How much power do thewant?”

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has classified 60 people on Nauru and Manus as in a serious condition and another 24 are in a hospital - including two in a coma.

Under the bill, amended by independent Kerryn Phelps, two doctors could recommend an asylum seeker be evacuated to mainland Australia for urgent medical treatment.

The minister can reject the advice on national security grounds or refer it to an advisory panel for the final decision.

The government has warned that could mean almost all the 1000 people on Nauru and Manus could be transferred to Australia – a suggestion rejected by the AMA.

Anthony Albanese during Question Time in the House of Representatives
Anthony Albanese says there may need to "tweak" the bill on medical transfers for asylum seekers.
AAP

“They’re either saying that all the people on Manus and Nauru are in fact sick enough to warrant coming here which really worries me or they’re playing politics,” Dr Bauert said.

Government facing historic defeat

The Opposition will meet Monday evening to finalise its position ahead of a potential debate on the bill as early as Tuesday morning when Parliament sits for the first time in 2019.

If Labor sides with the crossbench and votes in favour of the bill in the lower house, it could deliver a historic defeat to the government on the floor of Parliament.

Facing this embarrassing prospect, the government has stepped up its rhetoric on border security.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison used a National Press Club address to accuse the opposition of risking unleashing “a world of woe” by restarting the people smuggling trade.

Scott Morrison is promising more climate change and energy policy before the election in May.
Scott Morrison is promising more climate change and energy policy before the election in May.
AAP

“I don’t trade on national security but Bill Shorten clearly is indicating that that’s what he’d do and I don’t think that makes Australia stronger, I think it makes Australia weaker under Bill Shorten.”

Mr Morrison, who last week described the bill as “stupid”, said there was no room for compromise.

“It adds nothing to border protection – it only takes away and, therefore, its passage in any form takes us backwards.”

Labor’s Chris Bowen said they would take a “responsible approach”.

“We want to see sick people dealt with appropriately and getting the best care possible. We’ve also said we want ministerial discretion to be the final arbiter on this," he said.

It’s also unclear if Dr Phelps or other key crossbench members would back any potential amendments from Labor.

Extra time for banking legislation

While the government has seized its opportunity to paint the opposition as weak on border security, the opposition is out to make the government look weak on banks.

With just 10 sitting days left before an election expected in May, Labor is attempting to get enough crossbench support to sit for another two weeks to legislate some recommendations from the banking royal commission.

Independent Bob Katter has said he’s open to extra sitting weeks, but is yet to make a final decision.

Labor said the government could act before the election on abolishing the grandfathering of commissions for financial advisors and the banning of hawking of insurance and superannuation products

 “These are things that the parliament could do with broad support, very quickly, sensible things that would be relatively straightforward to draft,” Mr Bowen said.

Mr Morrison said the government would not rush the implementation of the recommendations.

“We will deal with this in the prudent, measured and responsible way we always do.”

The prime minister refused to comment on whether more than $200 million in government funding for water projects in Mr Katter’s electorate would be threatened if he voted in favour of extra sitting weeks.

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