Coalition digs in over refugee transfers

The medical transfer of refugees being held offshore is back in the spotlight, with a Senate committee to report on repealing new provisions later this week.

The medical transfer of refugees being held offshore is back in the spotlight, with a Senate committee to report on repealing new provisions later this week. Photo: AAP

The Morrison government is shaping up for another parliamentary brawl over refugee medical transfers.

A Senate committee examining the Coalition’s push to scrap so-called medevac laws is due to report back on Friday.

The repeal bill will then be debated in the upper house next month.

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie, who is likely to cast the deciding vote, has indicated she will be guided by the inquiry.

The committee is dominated by government senators, so members of opposition parties are likely to hand down dissenting reports.

Despite near-universal calls to keep the medical evacuation laws in place, Attorney-General Christian Porter insists the government is reflecting the will of the people.

“Our position on these sort of matters, I think, is accepted by middle Australia – it’s rejected by some – but it’s absolutely crystal clear,” he told ABC Radio on Monday.

“We took our vision as to how border protection should work … to a full election and it was fully endorsed.

“Part of that was retaining the orderly system of medical transfers that successfully worked to date, where the minister does have an ultimate discretion.”

The medevac laws, which were enacted against the Coalition government’s wishes earlier this year, gave clinicians a greater say in the medical transfers of asylum seekers.

The bill created a specialist medical panel to approve evacuations on advice from doctors rather than government officials.

The government can still refuse transfers on national security grounds.

The repeal bill was canvassed at length in Coalition government talking points inadvertently released to the media on Monday.

In the confidential briefing note, Coalition MPs and senators were instructed to tell journalists effective processes for medical transfers already existed.

“The repeal of the (bill) does not remove the ability to medically transfer a transitory person to Australia,” the internal briefing notes said.

“It is important to have a single, consistent, transparent medical transfer process with all the necessary protections for the Commonwealth and individuals in place.”

There are currently more than 1000 asylum seekers in Australia for medical reasons.

“It is the government’s position that it should determine who is allowed to enter Australia, and the terms and conditions to be imposed on that entry, as is the right of every sovereign nation,” the talking points said.

On Sunday, a group of 11 health bodies released a joint statement calling for the government to retain the independent panel of medical experts who rule on refugee transfers.


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