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Down the Rabbit Hole Again !

I wrote this back in December and it is worth repeating to keep in context the Bill that Kerryn Phelps will present to the parliament next week, the Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill 2018: it has already passed the Senate :

“Back in September 2014, a young man died in a Brisbane hospital after he had contracted a leg infection on Manus Island where he had been held in detention by Australian immigration authorities. Brisbane Coroner Mr Terry Ryan found his death followed a series of clinical errors and delays,” including a lack of antibiotics on Manus Island to treat tropical infections and a failure by Australian immigration officials to urgently grant a doctor’s request for the twenty-four-year-old asylum seeker to be transferred to Australia for life-saving treatment.

The coroner found the Australian Government had not met its responsibility to detainees such as Mr Hamid Khazaei to provide health care that was “broadly comparable” to that available in Australia.

The coroner recommended a systemic overhaul of healthcare responses in offshore detention, including a new policy to allow doctors on the ground, rather than Canberra officials, to approve medical transfers.

So why raise this matter now, we all know that the medical welfare of asylum seekers held indefinitely on Manus and Nauru has been a highly toxic political issue for some years. The coalition government go to great lengths to argue that healthcare available to asylum seekers on these islands is of a high standard and equivalent to that available in regional Australia. But then we have organisations like MSF saying it was deeply concerned for the health and well-being of patients and described the mental health situation of asylum seekers and refugees on the island (Nauru) as “beyond desperate”: MSF were then ejected from Nauru.

More than 4700 Australian doctors and medical professionals have signed a new appeal asking Prime Minister Scott Morrison to reconsider his refusal to transfer sick refugee children and their families off Nauru (and Manus) for medical care.

When Dr Kerryn Phelps was elected to the federal seat of Wentworth, she took it as a personal crusade to bring the children on Nauru to Australia (or New Zealand who have consistently offered to take 150 asylum seekers a year since 2013) with no further delay and to streamline the medical evacuation process. As had been noted by the Brisbane Coroner, in the Khazaei case, there is a very opaque system in place that involves bureaucrats in Canberra who will frequently override medical advise when it comes to evacuating a patient (or they will send people to Port Moresby or Taiwan rather than bring them here).

The parliament was due to knock-off for the summer holidays last Thursday but before that occurred, a Bill was passed in the Senate to change and streamline the medivac process and leave it to two medical professionals to authorise a medical evacuation with the minister having ultimate discretion : in circumstances where the minister went against medical opinions and disallowed the medical evacuation he or she would be answerable to the parliament. Clearly, in these circumstances, the minister would be chancing his or her arm to go against professional medical advice.

In the Senate, there was much filibustering and waffling to avoid this Bill being passed and going before the House of Representatives. Morrison had a win by shutting down the House early so that the Bill could not be presented or voted on.

Clearly, the system of medical evacuation needed upgrading, the Brisbane coroner noted that, but the coalition are against any change and they have suggested that to improve the medical evacuation system will lead to detainees engaging in self-harm to expedite an evacuation: does that mean that the current cumbersome system discourages self-harm?

Scott Morrison got a bit shirty about the proposed legislative changes saying in an intemperate and rather bizarre and impromptu news conference that :

“I will do everything in my power to ensure that these suggested changes … never see the light of day,” Mr Morrison said. “I will do whatever I can. I will fight them using whatever tool or tactic I have available to me to ensure that we do not undermine our border protection laws.”

Why do you think that our prime minister would say this, does he believe that taking such decisions out of the hands of unqualified bureaucrats and giving them to doctors will really undermine our border protection laws rather than just save lives?

It seems that what really is getting up Morrison’s nose is that over eighty percent of the detainees on Nauru and Manus have been found to be genuine refugees and as such can claim protection and sanctuary if they come to Australia, and this is the point. The whole offshore detention policy was designed to get these people out of Australia and beyond the reach of Australian law and jurisdiction and Morrison is worried that, as the majority of these people are suffering from undiagnosed mental illnesses, they will all end up here, assert their refugee status, claim protection as they are entitled to do and Bob’s your uncle.”

The Phelps Bill, the Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill 2018 reflects the recommendations of the Brisbane Coroner and will require that two doctors, usually one on the island in question and another doing an electronic case evaluation from Australia will be able to initiate and streamline a medical evacuation where in their joint opinions it is warranted based on medical grounds. The minister still has right of veto if there are pressing security factors that override the medical considerations: hard to think that such a situation could arise but Scott Morrison considers that some of the refugees could be rapists, murderers and pedophiles. If they are, then it seems strange that after five years in detention they have not been detected and criminally prosecuted.

Both the government and their handmaiden Newscorp have gone into overdrive to stop this Bill passing in the House of Representatives and they say that if it passes among other things, the sky will fall in and the sun will not rise and a plague of toads will visit this wide brown land – and that it will cost the taxpayer a minimum of some $1.4 Billion to medivac and attend to these sick people. They even say that they will have to reopen the Christmas Island detention facility as they anticipate that all of the remaining detainees on Manus and Nauru are suffering from some physical or mental condition and will require medical evacuation: in this, they are probably right. Mr Dutton also helpfully adds that if the legislation is passed an armada of boats will imminently put to see from Indonesia – he fervently hopes.

So, we have a perfectly sensible piece of legislation that may very well be defeated depending on how the Independents and crossbenchers vote; Bob Katter has already been bought off and it seems that Cathy McGowan is the wild-card – we shall see.

After the recent US transfers from both islands, there are now roughly one thousand detainees left who have been held without trial for over five years. Isn’t it about time that Australia stood up and told these buffoons, masquerading as a government, that Enough is Enough?


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  1. David Bruce

    Why can’t Australia set up hospitals on the islands where we have contract detention centres?

    I am sure there are many doctors in Australia who would gladly provide their well remunerated services on location for say 12 month assignments?

    Perhaps the Australian Government could outsource the program to a church or charitable organization (Hillsong anyone?)

    It would benefit the Islanders as well as the detainees!

  2. Florence Howarth

    Mummy the big boys are picking on me. Won’t let me do as I want

  3. Florence Howarth

    The Nauruan govt threw off doctors that were providing some of the services needed.

  4. whatever

    Officer Dutton is in charge, and don’t you forget it.

  5. David Stakes

    They had MSF on the islands, highly qualified doctors. Government kicked them off the islands, because MSF complained of the lack of resources.

  6. Kaye Lee

    The advice to the government that ProMo and P Duddy are quoting was written by Mike Pezullo, the most strident defender of the offshore detention regime. This is the man whose department received all the reports of abuse and ill health and denied or ignored them or actively fought them through the courts. This is the man who was the prime mover behind the creation of the Home Affairs department and Border Force. This is the man whose department has received scathing reports time and again from the Auditor General..


    As a side note, Mike Pezullo’s wife was responsible for a report to the Fair Work Commission that torpedoed penalty rates.

    But hey, the power couple are doing very well for themselves.

  7. Kaye Lee

    Peter van Onselen made a very good point in an article in the Australian….

    “So while the PM’s rhetoric goes to an extreme for effect, it is possible the bill as it stands, in theory at least, could lead to criminals coming to Australia for medical treatment. Personally, I say: so what? Domestic prisoners who have committed heinous crimes receive medical treatment as and when required. And it is done safely: they are kept under guard. If a suspected criminal held in offshore detention needed mainland medical treatment, and the advisory body agreed with that assessment, I would hope that, as a humane society, we would grant it.”

    If, as they suggest, a thousand refugees would satisfy two doctors and, if contested, a medical board that is set up by Home Affairs, then what does that say about the conditions in which we have incarcerated these people?

  8. Andrew Smith

    It’s just another sad reflection on Australian politics and society while, like the UK and US, is an important aspect of White Nativism i.e. creation of a ‘hostile environment’ toward non-Europeans.

  9. paul walter

    Promo and “criminals coming the country” ..I laughed reading that yesterday.

    The country was founded on the labour of slave criminals exiled to this place by a titled criminal class, is full of criminals of various sorts today and most of all, run by the worst criminals in the nation of all.


  10. Lambert Simnel

    David Bruce, no, anything that gives aid and comfort to asylums seekers and their supporters here, not a hope, it all turns on the sadism.
    It is actually a mechanism to break the spirit of Australians also.

  11. Matters Not

    So what does new PM Shorten do with Mike Pezullo – hated by many – yet loved by former Labor luminaries such as Evans and Beazley – then lauded by Abbott et al – and now revered by Dutton and his minions. Will Mike remain as a celebrated panjandrum – be dismissed – remain in his current position or simply be reassigned? Will Shorten have a night of the long knives – or just shortened ones – some minor blood letting but nothing a few band-aids cannot fix?

    (An aside) Goss (and Rudd) on assuming power in Queensland in 1989 choose a complete cleaning out. Many relatively senior public servants were sent to various gulags around the CBD – offices without phones, pencils, paper or secretarial assistance – and there they remained until they decided to depart. Restructures were the order of the day with new organisational charts, phone books, titles and the like. Change was so frantic it became almost impossible to keep up.

    Remember an incoming DG asking one morning – Who the hell is XY? My reply was – XY did work here but he left years ago. DG replied – No he didn’t. He just appeared at my office and wants to know what is going on. Embarrassment much. He had no real office, no phone, no location on the organisational chart – no one reported to him and he reported to no one. An invisible bureaucrat. But he was being paid. And he did a lot of reading. Life was good. He kept quiet.

    But you can be sure that Mike won’t keep quiet. He will live to fight many other days. He’s a good strategic thinker. Far too clever for the average politician. Pity about his value system. But maybe you can’t have everything? Or perhaps he has nothing?

  12. terence mills

    Chrostopher Pyne has clarified the situation, nobody is detained anywhere :

    “And quite frankly, there are now … There’s nobody in Manus Island … Manus Island doesn’t actually operate any more as a detention centre. It’s been closed down. Those people are in the community. There’s nobody in detention on Nauru. They are all part of the community and there are no children left on Nauru and the last few have got a process to come to Australia.”

    We’re back to the Hotel California principle :

    they can check out anytime but they can never leave

  13. Lambert Simnel

    Apparently, according to Behrouz Berchani,

    The sadism principle is alive and well.
    But not much in the way of truth in the media about it.
    But Pyne…exemplifies all that is sick with this government.

  14. New England Cocky

    “[B]ut Scott Morrison considers that some of the refugees could be rapists, murderers and pedophiles.”

    But it is OK to have adulterers in Parliament ….. Barnyard who??? David from SW ….??

    It is nice to know that Happy Clapper “Christian” Morriscum remembers the story of the Good Samaritan ….. but does not practice any other Christian values ….. now Nat$ “family values” ….. uhm? ….. Barnyard???

  15. Frank Smith

    Meanwhile back in the real world, we Australians are responsible for the humanitarian crisis that these off-shore detention centres have created. Let us not forget that! Lambert Simnel above has drawn our attention to this article, also reported by the ABC:


    Yes, Mr Pyne and Mr Coleman, if, after 5 years incarcerated in the tropical hell-holes you have created, all asylum seekers whose health you have seriously compromised should be brought to Australia for proper medical treatment. Have you no compassion or common sense at all?

  16. terence mills

    In my view the clue to these antics from this caretaker government are as I mentioned in the article :

    Morrison is worried that, as the majority of these people are suffering from undiagnosed mental illnesses, they will all end up here [on medical advice], assert their refugee status, claim protection as they are entitled to do and Bob’s your uncle.

    The last thing that Morrison and Dutton want to see is these people live normal lives because to them it’s a political game to wedge the opposition.

  17. Matters Not

    Let’s not forget whose idea Manus was – promising also – never Australia.

    Lest we forget the race to the bottom – with nary a moral principle in sight. The refugees won’t.

  18. Lambert Simnel

    Frank Smith,
    I may not have been sufficiently moved to get further into the issue and dig about but for Xtopher Pyne’s unspeakable performance on Backsliders this morning. I was not going to view the show until the Pyne in the arse interview showed, owing to the desolate nature of the panel, probably weakened for the election. He must have come straight from his local coven after black Sunday mass to brag about the latest ceremonial cadavers in waiting..

  19. Jon Chesterson




    Scott Morrison got a bit ‘shirty’ about the proposed legislative changes saying in an intemperate and rather bizarre and impromptu news conference that:

    “I will do everything in my power to ensure that these suggested changes … never see the light of day,” Mr Morrison said. “I will do whatever I can. I will fight them using whatever tool or tactic I have available to me to ensure that we do not undermine our border protection laws.”


  20. Kaye Lee

    The thing that truly struck me was Morrison saying that if the bill gets passed he will just “ignore it”. That’s not the way it works sunshine. You are NOT a dictator.

  21. Keith

    Already adults and children had mutilated themselves or committed suicide. Other refugees have mental health problems. What sort of people allow these outcomes?

  22. paul walter

    Experience, Kronomex.

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