The Medevac Bill was passed by Parliament; the suicides of detainees due to physical and/or mental problems continue and ‘hundreds’ of detainees have not entered Australia. But Minister Dutton’s opposition to it continues for spurious reasons. One needs to look at the facts.
1. CLAIM: Minister Dutton and the Prime Minister have both claimed that the Medevac Bill would open the way for criminals and dangerous men to enter the country.
FACT: The previous Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in a now publicly revealed phone call to President Trump of the USA, assured the President that all the people on Manus had been thoroughly vetted by the Australian Government and all had been classified as refugees and there were no dangerous men among them. Also the Minister has to approve those applying for medical transfer and can reject an applicant if seen as a security risk. While in Australia the medical evacuee is held in domestic detention.
2. CLAIM: Peter Dutton claims asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island and Nauru are refusing resettlement offers in the United States because of the medevac legislation, claiming 250 applications for medical transfer were currently being reviewed by “activist” doctors.
FACT: Since the medevac laws were enacted, only 2 patients have been transferred to Australia for medical reasons without the approval of Minister Dutton or the immigration minister David Coleman. These two individuals were only transferred to Australia after being assessed by an expert panel of doctors chosen by Dutton. This panel includes some of Australia’s best doctors, including the commonwealth chief medical officer and the surgeon general of Australian Border Force. Rather than the ‘1000” that Dutton claimed would flood Australia through medevac there have been 40 people approved to come.
3. CLAIM: “People can go to the United States and they are refusing to go there, because they believe they can come to Australia under Labor’s Medevac law.”
FACT: 95 people have actually refused resettlement in the US but reasons are unknown. (There is oral evidence that among these are detainees living in Australia with their families).
Dutton had previously said 531 had been accepted under the terms of the US deal, with another 295 applications “in the pipelines”. The US had rejected more than 300 applications so far.
4. CLAIM: Dutton has repeatedly warned that the medevac legislation would lead to an increase in people-smugglers’ boats to Australia.
FACT: This has not occurred. Under the Howard Government from 2001 to 2003, 5 boats containing 614 people were turned back. Since 2013 33 boats containing 820 people have been turned back.
The deterrent to people smugglers remains overwhelming. Dutton’s own department has signalled this is unlikely in a briefing:
[Potential illegal immigrants] will probably remain sceptical of smuggler marketing and await proof that such a pathway is viable, or that an actual change of policy has occurred, before committing to ventures. Four months on, there has been no revival of boats.
5. CLAIM: Dutton used the federal court ruling on June 18, 2019 to allow doctors to make transfer decisions based on a patient’s medical record on the basis of notes of other practitioners or information gathered from third parties and not necessarily an individual face to face consultation, as further evidence the legislation was “watering down” border security.
FACT: Nothing, including the minister’s ability to reject a transfer application on broad ‘national security’ grounds, has changed. Refugees and asylum seekers brought to the mainland for treatment remain under guard and are escorted to any medical appointments by security.
Medecins San Frontieres who had been providing mental healthcare to asylum seekers and refugees was forced to leave Nauru in 2018 and in 2019 when they tried to resume care for patients through ‘telehealth’ consultations were blocked again. To date, there have been 40 medical transfers under the law. In addition, nine recommendations were refused by the government. The panel of health experts upheld seven of the minister’s refusals, and overturned two.
6. CLAIM: Dutton claims that the asylum seekers and refugees are using their mental and physical torment as a ‘ruse’ to be released from detention centres.
FACT: Medecins Sans Frontieres and other health professionals, who had consulted with patients on Manus and Nauru, predicted that 60 percent of the people they had treated on Nauru had suicidal thoughts. Since the recent election there have been 50 suicidal attempts. In the six years that most of them have been detained, and most of them have been classified as refugees with a legal right to protection, 45 have died, 24 from suicide, with 14 of these deaths being people in centres on Manus or Nauru, and nearly all are mentally and/or physically ill.
There are well documented cases by Health Professionals who have had to resort to the Australian Federal Court to have urgent and grave cases heard because the Government has failed to respond to these appeals or delayed any response: and responses deemed as urgent.
In September, 2018 the Federal Court levelled criticism of the Government for not acceding to the Doctors’ requests and this followed the pattern of all previous appeals made to the Court as a last resort. The Medevac Law has enhanced the power of the Doctors’ recommendation and now the Home Affairs Minister must respond within 72 hours of receiving a medical transfer request.
7. CLAIM: In addition Minister Dutton has claimed that the women who have been raped and/or have unwanted pregnancies are ‘just trying it on’ to get to Australia for either medical treatment and/or abortions.
FACT: Anyone who has witnessed the state of these women and has heard their stories would know why this claim, and the denigrating wording of it, is so utterly repugnant. These rapes have occurred on Nauru, where abortions are forbidden, and is an area of detention under Australian Government jurisdiction. Our Government has forcibly retained them and failed to protect them. The living conditions are such as to expose extremely vulnerable women to sexual exploitation. Their condition is a major trauma they have to deal with in addition to the many attached to indefinite detention.
Dr Nick Martin, a senior doctor who had been employed by IHMS on Nauru, has given evidence that psychologists, mental health nurses, obstetricians and gynaecologists have given evidence of the women recommended to come to Australia for treatment and/or abortions. He claims delays caused by the Minister’s failure to respond to the urgency of these cases is abysmal and is due to either ineptitude or calculated viciousness.
8. CLAIM: Minister Dutton and the Prime Minister have made the extraordinary claim that: (If Australians)…need medical attention, then they are going to be displaced from those services because if you bring hundreds and hundreds of people from Nauru and Manus down to our country they are going to go into the health network”.
FACT: Apart from the extraordinary hyperbole of the statement: “hundreds and hundreds of people” the statements made by both politicians have been totally rejected by the hospitals. 31/50 people have been accepted for medical evacuation since the Medevac Bill has been passed. According to St Vincent’s “This is a baseless claim. Public hospitals can accommodate the health needs of asylum seekers without disadvantaging anyone.”
9. CLAIM: Since the era of the Rudd/Gillard government every Australian Government has said that offshore processing is a “humanitarian act” because they want to save lives at sea.
FACT: People who come by boat are highly vulnerable having risked their lives in perilous journeys to escape persecution and danger at home. To cause them severe mental illness, physical hardship through indefinite detention is totally inhumane. The suffering of those in Immigration detention is predictable, severe and leads to self-harm. To use this policy as a deterrent is morally illegal and against the UN Convention of the Rights of Refugees. It is anything but humane.
According to the Human Rights Commission Australia’s onshore immigration detention is ‘unlike any other liberal democracy’. In its latest report (June 2019) it states that (it) is becoming “more and more like prison” It is holding people for an average of about 500 days – far longer than any comparable jurisdiction, and is increasingly using restraints. People are being detained when there is no valid justification for their ongoing detention under international law”
Canada’s average length of closed immigration detention didn’t exceed one month, and 80% of people leaving UK detention between 2012 and 2017 had been held for two months or less.
(The latest figures I found were: US has taken 85 from Manus and 162 from Nauru). No Iranians or Somali people taken. And no more likely to be taken.