OPINION: Yesterday, Australia ignored the advice of 5000 doctors. And became a little bit crueller.

Last week 5000 doctors signed an open letter urging politicians not to scrap medevac laws.

They’re the ones that allow critically ill asylum seekers being held in offshore detention to be medically evacuated to Australia for treatment.

For many Australians preoccupied by the current bushfire crisis gripping our country, this battle in our parliament has flown under the radar.

This is what happened in parliament. Post continues after video.

Video via Sky News

Before Medevac laws were implemented, transfers for critically sick refugees from Papua New Guinea and Nauru were done at the discretion of the government. It was up to politicians and bureaucrats to decide if a person would be “let in” to Australia for urgent life threatening health concerns. It was done on a person by person basis – and was slow, expensive and traumatic.

Then, in early 2019, the Medevac Bill was passed, meaning that there was a pathway for critically sick refugees to access medical treatment. To receive a medical evacuation to Australia, two independent Australian doctors would have to make a recommendation, and agree that appropriate treatment for the patient was not available offshore.

But this week, the government successfully scrapped those laws thanks to an apparent “secret deal” with Senator Jackie Lambie. The UN refugee agency have condemned the decision.

“Since its commencement earlier this year, the medevac mechanism had proven to be a timely, effective and often life-saving safeguard,” the agency said.

“… As Australia retains responsibility for people forcibly transferred under its offshore arrangements, UNHCR urges the government of Australia to find appropriate solutions including taking up the longstanding offer by New Zealand to resettle refugees and to prevent further harm.”


The move, which ultimately makes it more difficult for some of the world’s most vulnerable people to access medical treatment, is cruel and inhumane.

Our government is turning its back on sick desperate people who have no other options. Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it’s because the laws are a “national security” risk. In fact, he last week told ABC radio that repealing medevac “would be a big win to end the year on.”

A win?

These laws were for sick desperate people who have no other options. This decision means people could die.

The whole reason the laws were introduced in the first place was because of reports children as young as 11 on Nauru and Manus Island were attempting suicide. We’re returning to a system that saw 12 people die in offshore detention.

Jackie Lambie
The government was able to pass the repeal bill with the support of Jackie Lambie. Image: Tracey Nearmy/Getty.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils condemned the decision with the line, "to allow the most destitute of people to receive proper medical attention, on the advice of qualified professionals, is not a threat to national security but in fact makes us all better and stronger."

The National Council of Australian Churches agrees.

"There are still over 500 women and men who remain [over] there because the Australian government refuses them entry into Australia. At the very least, it is our duty as a civilised country to provide the necessary health care for these people when it's unavailable to them," they wrote in a statement.


Dr Nick Martin echoed the sentiment of his medical colleagues in The Guardian writing, "the rates of physical and mental suffering in this retained cohort used as effectively a human shield are unbelievable. To know it is all so preventable is just heartbreaking."

"This mob has no heart," Labor leader Anthony Albanese wrote on Twitter.

Social media in fact, is overflowing with disbelief at the move.

We've known for years that conditions in the offshore facilities are horrendous. The UN has gone as far as to describe camp conditions as "inhumane" with medical experts repeatedly warning of inadequate medical facilities.

“Since its commencement earlier this year, the medevac mechanism had proven to be a timely, effective and often life-saving safeguard,” the agency said in a statement.

135 people were transferred to the mainland for treatment this year. But according to the government asylum seekers have been using the laws as a "loophole."

Now, even though opinion polls show 62 percent of voters are in support of the law, the government has turned its back.

Australia can do better than this.