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.
Morrison could very well take out his frustrations on the half-smart lawyers who devised the offshore detention fiasco by adopting what Oliver Hardy would say to Stan Laurel when he had stuffed up again; “Well there’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.”
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