To The Editor

Bring Back Medevac

In early December, the landmark Medevac legislation was repealed by the Morrison Government. Medevac legislation had put medical decisions back into the hands of doctors. Like so many others, we are deeply saddened by this setback to human rights, and more determined than ever to fight for the humane and compassionate treatment of vulnerable refugees. 

Before the landmark Medevac bill was passed, refugees held in offshore detention in Papua New Guinea and Nauru could only be transferred to Australia for proper medical treatment when a condition had become life-threatening. Such transfers had to be defended in court cases that spanned months and years. Sick refugees waited 2 to 3 years on average for medical transfer. Some waited five years, and some died preventable deaths in detention. 

Medevac meant that medical transfers could be triggered by the recommendations of two independent doctors who believed the patient could not receive adequate care in PNG or Nauru. The Minister responsible (Peter Dutton) retained a right of refusal on character or security grounds, but if his objection was based solely on the state of the patient’s health, it could be overturned by an 8-member panel of medical experts. The Medevac law only applied to refugees currently in PNG and Nauru, making a nonsense of the oft-repeated argument that it would provide a pathway for new asylum seekers to settle in Australia.   

Doctors’ support for Medevac is overwhelming, and some of voices that ring loudest are those who have seen conditions on PNG and Nauru first hand. Dr Nick Martin, a GP and former senior officer on Nauru, writes (Guardian, Dec 4) that the ‘rates of physical and mental suffering in this retained cohort used effectively a human shield are unbelievable. To know it is all so preventable is just heartbreaking.’ 

Along with Dr Kerryn Phelps, who sponsored the Medevac bill, we believe that a great many Australians ‘of good heart’ will continue to fight on behalf of those refugees whose rights and freedoms the Australian government continues to trample. It’s time to reinstate Medevac.

The Greens, Manning/Great Lakes 

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