7   +   5   =  

Illegal boats, border security issues and a historic loss for the PM. Anyone would think we were about to experience an apocalyptic influx of immigrants, debilitating our government and our nation.

It should come as no surprise (but perhaps with disappointment) that the Medevac bill was instantly politicised when it was introduced. Border protection is always a hot topic for politicians, particularly with an upcoming federal election.

Newspaper headlines on February 13 seemed only to relish in this, reinforcing scaremongering tactics and the lambasting of the Labor party for supposedly opening the floodgates.

But what is the Medevac bill actually about, with the political spin stripped back?

The facts

The Medical Evacuation Bill will alter the conditions under which refugees or asylum seekers in offshore detention are evacuated to Australia for urgent medical care.

The decision is to be made by at least two medical specialists, who send their recommendation to the Minister for Home Affairs (currently Peter Dutton).

The Minister then has 72 hours to accept the recommendation or reject it on any of the following grounds:

  • The individual is known to have a ‘substantial’ criminal record. This is defined by reference to the Migration Act 1958 501(7) and includes, for example, a sentence of over 12 months imprisonment;
  • The Minister believes the individual is a threat to security based on an ‘adverse security assessment’ or advice from ASIO; or
  • The Minister disagrees with the health assessment.

If this third point is called upon, the issue will then be put before an Independent Health Advice Panel, made up of eight medical experts including the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Department of Home Affairs Chief Medical Officer, Surgeon-General of the Australian Border Force and others as appointed from nominees by professional medical bodies. If neither of the other grounds are an issue, the panel’s decision is final.

Essentially, these new changes will give medical professionals more authority and control over medical decisions. Seems only logical.

How does it differ from the current system?

Medical evacuations to Australia have occurred previously, although this is often the result of court proceedings and a lengthy bureaucratic process. Doctor’s recommendations are made to the Australia government and considered by a committee of the Department of Home Affairs, which then makes the decision about a medical transfer. Recent data from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre shows that many patients have been waiting years for a transfer to receive necessary specialist treatment.

Essentially the Medevac bill would take away some of the influence of government officials and give it to medical professionals instead, as well as smoothing out the process so medical transfers will (hopefully) move a lot quicker.

Asylum seekers and refugees who do come to Australia for treatment as part of this process will continue to be held in detention while they’re here. Unless, of course, the Minister decides that they can be released.

Furthermore, and perhaps one of the most pivotal conditions of the bill, is that this medical evacuation process will only apply to those who are currently on Manus Island or Nauru at the time the legislation commences. For anyone who arrives after, the process won’t be applicable.

If these conditions are in place, why all the fuss over our border security collapsing?

Nothing changes for new arrivals, so people smugglers shouldn’t have gained any advantage. Though you wouldn’t know that from how things are being portrayed. The Prime Minister even went so far as to broadcast a video warning to people smugglers.

It seems pretty simple to me — the Coalition is getting nervous about the upcoming May election, and so is falling back on the classic ‘stop the boats’ mantra that worked so well for Tony Abbott. It’s using and exacerbating this Medevac bill to incite fear in the public in order to be able to bring a solution with their tough policy.