ALHR strongly opposes any measures to either repeal or reduce the scope of the Medevac legislation
In a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee regarding the Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019 (August 2019), ALHR again expressed its strong opposition to any measures to either repeal or reduce the scope of the Medevac legislation, including via the Bill.
The Medevac legislation seeks to ensure that people who are currently subject to Australia’s offshore processing regime and who are assessed as requiring medical treatment by two or more doctors are temporarily transferred to Australia so they can access the treatment they need. Such transfers are necessary in cases where the medical treatment required is not available in the country where the person is located offshore. The current offshore processing framework has created unsafe conditions for the people who are subject to it, many of whom have been offshore for more than six years. Twelve people have lost their lives, including eight people who have died as a result of suicide and inadequate healthcare. The conditions have caused significant mental and physical harm to individuals, and have been resolutely condemned on the international stage.
The Medevac legislation is a vital part of ensuring Australia complies with its binding international obligations under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) and international human rights law.
Under international law, Australia remains responsible for the people it subjects to offshore processing and for that reason, it is incumbent on the Australia government to ensure that individuals subject to the offshore processing arrangements have access to adequate medical care. The Medevac legislation creates a framework where the people best placed to assess the medical treatment a person needs – medical professionals – do so in an orderly and timely manner and advise the Federal Government accordingly.
Despite the fact that the Federal Government had the power to facilitate the types of medical transfers contemplated by the Medevac legislation before the legislation came into force, the Federal Government repeatedly failed to transfer people in serious need of medical treatment. Before the legislation, these people had to commence costly and protracted Federal Court proceedings and obtain Court Orders to compel the Federal Government to facilitate the transfer. Since the Medevac legislation came into force on 2 March 2019, it has contributed to ensuring that people in serious need of medical attention are considered in an orderly, timely and safe fashion.
We note the Federal Government has raised a number of concerns about what it considers the effect of this legislation, including that it:
(a) ‘opens the floodgates’ to people seeking to be transferred to Australia on fabricated medical claims;
(b) will cause people in Australia to be displaced from medical services they need;
(c) will allow dangerous people to enter Australia; and (d) will ‘restart the boats’.
Each of the concerns are not well founded, lack any empirical evidence base and are inadequate grounds for either repealing or otherwise reducing the scope of the Medevac legislation. We address each of these concerns individually within our submission.
It is ALHR’s firm view that the Bill should not be passed and should be withdrawn in its entirety. Since it came into force, the Medevac legislation has played an integral role in Australia’s compliance with international human rights law obligations by ensuring that people under Australia’s control have access to necessary medical care when they need it. Additionally, the fears raised about the risks posed by the Medevac legislation are unsubstantiated and are not supported by the evidence yielded in the time since the Medevac legislation came into force.