This government seem absolutely committed to wasting the time of our parliament (both Houses) with their silly ideological tantrums. After losing the union bashing vote for the totally inappropriately named Ensuring Integrity legislation they now want to repeal the Medevac legislation for the poor souls who are still stuck in detention on Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
You may remember the Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill 2018 was introduced at a time during the last parliament when the coalition were in minority. The Bill provided for the temporary transfer to Australia of persons on Manus Island or Nauru, and their families, if they were assessed by two or more treating doctors as requiring medical treatment and required the temporary transfer of all children and their families from offshore detention to Australia for the purpose of medical or psychiatric assessment.
The law allowed for Australian-based doctors to recommend a refugee or asylum seeker offshore be transferred to Australia for care rather than just leaving it in the hands of bureaucrats although it still allowed the minister to refuse if he disagreed with the clinical assessment – in which case it goes to the independent medical panel for review – or if he has concerns based on security or criminal grounds.
Peter Dutton hated this legislation as it took some of his power away but certainly didn’t stop him from interfering with a medical transfer if there were security or criminal considerations : Dutton maintained that the majority of these folk who have been detained offshore for more than six years are rapists, pedophiles, murderers and/or terrorists yet he does so without evidence and none have been charged with crimes either by the authorities in PNG or Nauru or Australia.
It seems that Jacqui Lambie is the crucial vote needed by the government to repeal this legislation but she has evidently placed a condition on the government for her support. She maintains that the real objective of the government should be resettling these folk rather than restricting their access to medical services. It is reported that she has called on the government to accept the resettlement offer made consistently by New Zealand to take 150 asylum seekers a year from Australian detention and then close the detention centres : considering there are only 263 people on Manus (and elsewhere in PNG) and 221 on Nauru this seems like a reasonable request from Lambie but Dutton has, we are told, rejected this demand.
Last week the full bench of the Federal Court threw another spanner into Dutton’s manoeuvrings as one of the arguments the government have been pushing is that medical assessment by an Australian doctor of an offshore patient (by way off reviewing case notes and online video assessments where possible – although Nauru have been blocking these) was not acceptable medical practice and thus according to our government, the assessment must be left to doctors on Nauru and in PNG and evidently bureaucrats in Canberra. The Federal Court ruled that assessments done remotely by doctors in Australia were quite in order and reflected acceptable healthcare practice already taking place daily for Australian patients, particularly those in regional and remote areas.
The government have already signalled that they will be shelving their Religious Freedoms legislation until the new year after concerns were raised by various community groups including church groups about the extent of exemptions allowed to faith aligned educators, hospitals and aged-care operators who had stressed the importance of retaining a “religious ethos and culture” within their organisations. This included the extent to which such organisations could restrict employment by excluding those of other faiths or of no faith in general occupations including cleaners, gardeners, teachers, doctors and nurses. There is also a push from some denominations to allow them to be selective, based on religious criteria, on who they take in or to whom they provide their services or accommodation.
This so called Religious Freedoms legislation is turning into a real can of worms for the government and has the potential to split us into a society divided along lines of faith rather than the secular model we have aspired to since federation.
The question is, having lost the union bashing exercise and shelved the religious freedoms legislation, will they let go of the Medevac repeal or are they desperate for a year-end win at any costs?
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