politics

This week, four female MPs helped defeat the government and save asylum seekers' lives.

Today, humanity prevailed in Parliament. Our politicians voted in favour of granting a basic human right to the roughly 1000 men, women and children being held in offshore detention: the right to proper medical care.

Until then, the Australian Government would consider transferring detainees to the mainland for treatment, but only if their condition was life-threatening or they were at risk of “permanent, substantial disability”. Yes, in that case, they would consider it.

But yesterday, on the floor of the House of Representatives, four women banded together to create much-needed change.

Spearheaded by Wentworth MP Professor Kerryn Phelps, fellow independents Cathy McGowan, Rebekha Sharkie and Julia Banks, along with Andrew Wilkie and Greens MP Adam Bandt, joined with Labor to pass what became known as the Medivac Bill – a piece of legislation that will clear the way for people detained on Manus Island and Nauru to be temporarily transferred to Australia for medical treatment.

For details on the bill, see: The refugee transfer bill has passed parliament against the wishes of the federal government.

Politically speaking, it was historic. The victory marked the first time the sitting Government has been defeated on substantial legislation in 77 years.
Practically speaking, it’s likely to save lives. At least to avoid entirely preventable deaths, like that of 24-year-old Hamid Khazaei in 2014. Last year, a coroner determined that the Iranian detainee’s passing was the direct result of “compounding errors” in his healthcare, including a lack of antibiotics on Manus and delays in approvals for his transfer to Australia.

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This life-saving, landmark piece of legislation is a long time coming. Yet it does so courtesy of an MP who has been in the job less than four months.

Prof. Phelps introduced The Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill 2018 late last year, after being elected to fill the seat left vacant by Malcolm Turnbull.

Reacting to the House of Reps result, the former doctor tweeted, “Today is such an important day for sick people needing medical care they are unable to receive on #Manus and #Nauru. Thank you to all of the many people who contributed to this remarkable community campaign.”

It’s victories like this that illustrate the power of independents, in an environment that’s been ravaged by petty party-politics. While the main parties fight internal battles on leadership and culture, the cross-benchers have the space and freedom to manoeuvre actual policy.

And as Prime Minister Scott Morrison ducks-and-runs toward the May Federal election, these women have leveraged that power and allowed Labor to deliver a particularly savage blow. The former Minister for Immigration and Border Protection proudly heralded his role in “stopping the boats”; it was, until his election by the Liberal partyroom in August, his crowning political achievement.

Now, this week, on that very issue, four women have managed to stop him.

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