Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Matters of Public Importance

National Security

4:18 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | Hansard source

Flawed and dangerous: that is exactly how I would describe those who've put forward this MPI motion today. Senator Roberts has, in this motion, described the medevac legislation as flawed and dangerous—just like One Nation.

This legislation passed by Labor and the crossbench has already been proven sensible and humane. It is simply designed to ensure that people who are sick or who need health care get it, all while remaining in security of Australia's borders. It's sensible and logical legislation that allows those who are unwell, in ill-health, to be given the medical attention that they need. We don't want to see further deterioration or complication in their health issues that could lead to serious negative health outcomes, and we've actually seen clear examples of that in our offshore processing regime. Denying people the health care they need is clearly dangerous and flawed.

Senator Roberts seems to have forgotten the mechanism by which the legislation works in practice, so shall we outline them to the Senate again one more time? Under the legislation, a medevac can only be used by two or more independent doctors. Doctors should always have the objective authority on health matters, in my view. Who should assess a person's health and wellbeing and determine whether they are in a critical condition and in need of urgent medical attention? Clearly, it should be a doctor. What we saw in the previous model was that doctors would provide advice, but that would then be referred to various bureaucracies and government departments to work out whether arrangements should be made. Essentially, it became an act of veto over an independent medical assessment.

Clearly, what's designed to happen under this legislation—and it is working quite well—is that the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs is advised that a patient needs to be brought to Australia for medical treatment. This process ensures the Minister for Home Affairs has the discretion required to bring that patient into the country on the grounds of security, public safety and character. For example, where a patient might have a criminal record and would expose the Australian community to a risk of criminal conduct, that transfer can be denied. They may also deny entry due to security concerns, through the advice of ASIO, such as if ASIO advises the minister that the transfer of the patient is prejudicial to the security of Australia and the threat can't be mitigated. That is a veto right the minister is yet to use.

These solutions were embedded in the original medevac legislation, and that is how the act is currently operating. We did that because we understand the importance of national security, we understand the importance of deterrence at our borders and we understand that the need for ministerial discretion in some cases is imperative. This is a process which is currently working well, and which has nothing to do with opening the floodgates into Australia. In fact, the process has only led to 90 approvals being made by the minister, who is acting according to the rule of law in making approvals upon doctors' advice to admit people to Australia for proper treatment. That means that 90 people that Minister Dutton previously might have refused treatment to have now been able to come to Australia for treatment. The legislative framework of medevac has enshrined patients' access to medical treatment in Australia only where appropriate medical treatment has not been accessible in the place of offshore processing.

One Nation's aim to repeal these medevac laws altogether is simply another thing that strips away the dignity of asylum seekers who are dealing with serious medical issues. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, an organisation which supports those seeking asylum, has described the process outlined in the legislation as 'rigorous, independent and transparent'. Medevac can be seen to be working. If I had expected more from One Nation, I would be talking about how this kind of brazen disregard for human rights in our nation is shocking. But I don't expect more from them or from this government. One Nation's track record on disrespecting the rights of all of those different to themselves, like their positions on First Nations people, LGBTI rights, and immigration—well, of course their position on asylum seekers would be to continue to see them suffer in detention centres and from preventable causes of ill-health and death.

But, clearly, we can't forget in this place that it's not just One Nation who it seems would prefer to prevent people getting the medical care they need. The government would like to repeal this legislation. Minister Dutton, who has consistently misled the Australian people and who has bleated about the weakening of Australia's borders, has expressed his desire to repeal it. There is no weakening of Australia's borders with these laws. It's very clear that anyone who arrives or attempts to arrive by boat now or in the future is simply not eligible for transfer under the medevac legislation. It only applies to those people who were already on Manus and Nauru prior to the legislation being enacted on 1 March 2019. We've seen none of the catastrophic events that the politically motivated statements claimed were going to ensue after this legislation came into being. But Minister Dutton does not care about that one iota. They don't seem to care that the medevac legislation is actually working. They don't care that they already have a right of veto for anyone they think is a threat to this country. They clearly really don't care that, by repealing this legislation, there will be a very real and inhumane impact.

It appears that the only thing that this government cares about is continuing a political tantrum that occurred earlier this year and last year when the bill went through without them, when human rights triumphed over the fear and prejudice that was peddled by the government. They were left out and hurt by progress and fairness being implemented without them. So here we are today suffering through another back step in creating a fair society, due to the government's inexplicable feelings of relevance deprivation, as has been shown time and time again since this bill was passed and in the subsequent months since it was implemented.

Medevac is not an attempt to bring all people who are in offshore processing on Papua New Guinea and Nauru to Australia. It is not a bill to weaken our borders, and it clearly has not done so. It is certainly not a bill for the government and its stooges to use to enact revenge for their past losses. It is a bill that allows people who need it to receive treatment that they most definitely require.


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