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The Medical Evacuation Bill: Two Steps Forward and One Step Back for Asylum Seekers in Australian Detention Centres

The new asylum seeker medical evacuation bill has been passed in the Senate – much to the distaste of the Morrison government – meaning that doctors now have the power to decide whether asylum seekers in need should be brought to Australia for medical treatment.

The bill means that asylum seekers who are detained on Manus or Nauru will be evacuated to Australia if deemed necessary for medical care. This is replaces the old model: leaving asylum seeker health and wellbeing in the hands of Peter Dutton, our Home Affairs Minister, who’s renowned for his lack of empathy.

Greens MP, Adam Bandt, stated that the crossbench and refugee advocates should claim credit for the outcome of yesterday’s vote.

“By all working together and putting refugees first, we’ve just made a huge difference.”

The Greens worked with the crossbench and constructively held Labor to account, stopping too much power from remaining in (Home Affairs Minister) Peter Dutton’s hands.” Mr. Bandt said.

The reason that this bill has taken so long to pass is that the government was convinced that the bill would encourage people smugglers to send more asylum seekers to Australia.

Former Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, took to Twitter to boast his opinion, and warn the people of Australia of the impact the medical evacuation bill would have on the issue of people smuggling:

“People smugglers and their customers are the only winners from Labor’s weakening of our border protection policies because ample medical treatment offshore and onshore was already available.”

“Under Labor, it’s get on a boat, get to Nauru, get sick and get to Australia,” said Abbott.

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Despite Morrison supporters mourning a ‘sore loss’, the passing of this bill is a huge win for human rights advocates and for the people who have long suffered in the dismal conditions of Australian detention centres.

Don’t get too excited, though. Scott Morrison couldn’t let this one go; he and his government had to have the last laugh. Morrison announced yesterday that the Christmas Island detention centre will be reopened and prepared for new arrivals.

According to Morrison, this backward step will “clean up the mess that Bill Shorten and Labor made yesterday, once again”.

So, two steps forward but one step back as we continue to fight for the rights of asylum seekers, especially the right to receive medical attention. However, Morrison is still having the last laugh as he reopens Christmas island, which will surely not bring anything good to the conversation.

Morrison wrote on Twitter, “It’s my job now to ensure the boats don’t come back. I will do everything within the Government’s power to ensure that what the Labor Party has done to weaken our borders does not result in boats coming to Australia.”

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A constant tug of war amongst our politicians continues as Morrison perpetuates xenophobia – but still, he lost by a landslide in the vote for the bill. So, a small win for those of us with a social conscience. Yay.

Why does Morrison have the misconceived idea that the medical evacuation bill will lead to more asylum seekers and people smugglers capitalising on the legislation? The bill merely secures greater medical care for those asylum seekers suffering on Manus and Nauru in horrific conditions. People are needlessly dying, and Australia has been doing nothing to stop it. Yet Morrison believes reopening Christmas Island will just give more offshore area to hide the “problem”.

The Morrison government, and the governments before him, have treated asylum seekers like a bad smell that they’ve covered up with perfume and continue to ignore – but we can’t continue in this way.

Also, the idea of better medical care in detention centres doesn’t seem like the best incentive for smugglers to start pushing boats to flock to Australia. This medical evacuation bill isn’t revolutionary, it’s merely giving Asylum seekers a piece of their well-deserved human right.

Kelly Nicholls of the Refugee Council of Australia stated the following, after the initial vote on Tuesday in the house of representatives:

“The safety of lives must always come first. Doctors have been ignored for too long. People have died as a result. Pregnant women with complications have had to wait dangerously long to receive the treatment they need. Rape survivors have to had to have traumatic late-term abortions due to government blocks. This bill changes the response to medical emergencies in offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru.”

The passing of the medical evacuation bill, according to GetUp! Human rights director Shen Narayanasamy, is a “watershed moment” in Australian history. It’s a step towards returning basic human rights to asylum seekers, giving medical treatment to people who are suffering absolute atrocities in detention centres.

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Morrison’s actions following his loss leave an insight into his style of leadership. The announcement of the reopening of Christmas Island was described as a “knee-jerk reaction.” His response to the passing of the legislation has been to ignore and manipulate the truth of the legislation in an attempt to salvage his government’s reputation as the leaders of the “stop the boats” campaign.

Remember that elections are coming – Morrison isn’t winning any favours from us.



Original featured image: Amnesty International