Plan for medical panel to decide if refugees come here
Doctors would have the final say on who gets to come to Australia from Nauru and Manus Island except in cases where it would jeopardise national security, under Labor-backed changes to immigration that look set to pass the parliament next year.
Scott Morrison yesterday blasted the medical evacuation legislation, which was left stranded in the parliament until it returns in February, as a threat to “offshore processing as we know it”. The Prime Minister said the legislation would restart the people-smuggling trade.
“This is about getting rid of offshore processing. They never believed in it in the first place,” Mr Morrison said.
Labor teamed with the Greens and key crossbenchers yesterday to transform a government “housekeeping” bill into a highly contested bill to streamline medical evacuations from offshore processing countries.
Labor’s deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said those on Manus and Nauru had been there “too long”, and needed better access to Australia for medical treatment.
“The background is the government has failed to find permanent homes for people on Manus Island and Nauru,” she said.
Crossbench amendments, based on those proposed by independent MP Kerry Phelps, would allow two doctors to demand the transfer of a refugee or asylum-seeker, with their family members, to Australia.
The bill would also clear the remaining 10 refugee children from Nauru, together with their family members, except in cases of national security risk.
An independent medical panel would be empowered to confirm or reject transfers recommended by doctors, and could only be overridden by an immigration minister who “reasonably believes that the transfer of the person to Australia would be prejudicial to security within the meaning of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979”.
In a day of parliamentary drama, Labor and the Greens relied on the support of Derryn Hinch, Tim Storer, Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff to pass the amended laws in the Senate.
But delaying tactics by government senators and their supporters, including Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernardi and One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, ensured the amended bill could not be send back to the House of Representatives for a final vote — where it is expected to pass — before parliament rose for the year.
The government had earlier sought to convince crossbench senators and MPs to switch their support from Labor and the Greens by offering them highlevel briefings by Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo and Operation Sovereign Borders commander Stephen Osbourne.
Senator Hinch, Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie, and former Liberal turned independent MP Julia Banks all declined to attend the briefing.
The Prime Minister accused Labor and the crossbench of playing games with national security.