Me­di­vac surge as vote looms

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - JOE KELLY SI­MON BEN­SON

More than half the asy­lum-seek­ers and refugees in Pa­pua New Guinea and Nauru have ap­plied for trans­fer to Aus­tralia un­der con­tro­ver­sial me­di­vac laws, with a rush of ap­pli­ca­tions lodged be­fore a par­lia­men­tary vote to ter­mi­nate the scheme.

The fate of the me­di­vac regime rests with Tas­ma­nian Se­nate cross­bencher Jac­qui Lam­bie, who has re­fused to show her hand af­ter mak­ing her sup­port con­di­tional on a se­cret ul­ti­ma­tum she has de­liv­ered to the gov­ern­ment.

One Nation leader Pauline Han­son has pro­vided Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter Peter Dutton a per­sonal as­sur­ance of her party’s sup­port af­ter last week de­liv­er­ing the Coali­tion a shock de­feat over its union-bust­ing bill.

With the Coali­tion hop­ing to re­peal the me­di­vac laws as soon as Tues­day, The Aus­tralian can re­veal there are 234 peo­ple be­ing held off­shore who have ap­plied for trans­fer un­der the La­bor and Greens-backed me­di­vac laws.

As of Mon­day night, there were 466 asy­lum-seek­ers and refugees held off­shore — 208 on PNG and 258 on Nauru.

They are at var­i­ous stages of the ap­proval process, with 63 hav­ing reap­plied for a med­i­cal trans­fer af­ter be­ing re­jected ei­ther by an in­de­pen­dent health panel — which as­sesses claims un­der the scheme — or by Mr Dutton.

The Aus­tralian can also re­veal that, in the lead up to the Se­nate sit­ting week of Novem­ber 11, Mr Dutton was forced to con­sider nearly 100 ap­pli­ca­tions. Forty­seven were con­sid­ered dur­ing the week of Novem­ber 4, and 51 the fol­low­ing week.

The spike came amid spec­u­la­tion the gov­ern­ment could use the Se­nate-only sit­ting week in Novem­ber to put the me­di­vac re­peal to a vote, with the num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions plum­met­ing to just four in the week of Novem­ber 18 when the Se­nate was not sit­ting.

Since the me­di­vac laws were passed in Fe­bru­ary, 184 peo­ple have been trans­ferred to Aus­tralia and 418 valid ap­pli­ca­tions have been lodged.

On Mon­day, Gov­ern­ment Se­nate Leader Mathias Cor­mann con­firmed the re­peal bill would be put to a vote and that it would not ac­cept mea­sures that would weaken the bor­der pro­tec­tion regime.

“We are very mind­ful of mak­ing sure that we main­tain strong bor­der pro­tec­tion ar­range­ments and we don’t pro­vide an in­cen­tive for the peo­ple-smug­glers to get boats go­ing again,” he said.

“We will not be mak­ing any changes to our strong bor­der pro­tec­tion ar­range­ments, and we will not be mak­ing any changes to the way we’ve been deal­ing with La­bor’s legacy caseload.”

The gov­ern­ment is also con­cerned peo­ple com­plain­ing of triv­ial med­i­cal is­sues are be­ing ap­proved by doc­tors for trans­fer un­der the me­di­vac regime.

In one case, a refugee in PNG was ap­proved for trans­fer be­cause of re­ced­ing gums, gin­givi­tis and a uri­nary tract in­fec­tion.

La­bor home af­fairs spokes­woman Kristina Ke­neally on Mon­day crit­i­cised the gov­ern­ment’s push to over­turn the laws,

say­ing they were work­ing ef­fec­tively, and ac­cused Mr Dutton of fail­ing to ad­vance third-coun­try re­set­tle­ment op­tions, in­clud­ing New Zealand.

The Aus­tralian re­vealed on Mon­day that more than 20 refugees ap­proved for re­lo­ca­tion in the US had in­stead been flown to Aus­tralia un­der the me­di­vac regime, fu­elling con­cern the laws were un­der­min­ing third-coun­try re­set­tle­ment ar­range­ments.

More than 50 peo­ple re­jected for re­lo­ca­tion by the US have come to Aus­tralia un­der the laws.

Scott Mor­ri­son has ruled out al­low­ing New Zealand to take asy­lum-seek­ers from Manus Is­land and Nauru in re­turn for Sen­a­tor Lam­bie’s sup­port of the me­di­vac re­peal. “Those poli­cies on those mat­ters haven’t changed,” the Prime Min­is­ter said.

Sen­a­tor Ke­neally ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of dis­clos­ing the pri­vate de­tails and health con­di­tions of asy­lum-seek­ers as part of its push to se­cure sup­port for the re­peal. “We have seen the names, back­grounds, ages and eth­nic­i­ties of asy­lum-seek­ers and refugees pub­lished in pa­pers,” she said. “We have seen their med­i­cal con­di­tions mis­con­strued and ex­ploited for po­lit­i­cal gain.”

Sen­a­tor Ke­neally also ap­peared to take aim at Home Af­fairs sec­re­tary Mike Pez­zullo, and quoted from a di­rec­tive he is­sued in June 2015 when he was sec­re­tary of the then depart­ment of im­mi­gra­tion and bor­der pro­tec­tion. “Un­less there are com­pelling med­i­cal rea­sons, sup­ported by se­cond opin­ions, to do with life-and­death sit­u­a­tions, or sit­u­a­tions in­volv­ing the risk of life­time in­jury or dis­abil­ity, trans­fers to Aus­tralia should be avoided,” he had said.

Sen­a­tor Ke­neally said the di­rec­tive “ef­fec­tively stopped med­i­cal trans­fers to Aus­tralia”, lead­ing to a fall of 92 per cent.

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