BENDIGO refugee advocates have welcomed Labor’s potential support of a bill to allow critically unwell asylum seekers in offshore detention to be evacuated for urgent medical care.
Labor will reportedly support the bill put forward by new independent MP Kerryn Phelps on the conditions that a health advice panel is established, the minister signs off on transfers and reasons for refusal are tabled.
Chris Cummins, the Bendigo-based convenor of Rural Australians for Refugees, said it was time heath professions were listened to rather than public servants.
“When you allow public servants to determine who is unwell or not, and don’t follow the advice of healthcare professions, it’s just madness,” she said.
Labor will support Phelps bill for medical transfers from Nauru subject to 3 conditions - minister gets sign-off on transfers, must table reasons if they refuse and establish a health advice panel. Sounds like they want to preserve discretion to refuse transfers. #auspol— Paul Karp (@Paul_Karp) December 4, 2018
The Immigration Health Advisory Group was axed by former prime minister Tony Abbott, and decisions about the healthcare of refugees was removed from established health professionals.
A Medecins Sans Frontieres report stated that 30 per cent of asylum seekers and refugees they treated had attempted suicide, and they were at the “bottom of the scale” it used to assess the mental health of people in disaster zones around the world.
Ms Cummins said it was crucial that safeguards were in place to ensure the health advice panel could not be stacked with public servants with little or no experience in mental health.
“I really don’t see the point in a health advisory panel unless it’s legitimate and has healthcare professionals, rather than being handpicked public servants by the minister,” she said.
Ms Phelps introduced her bill to parliament on Monday, which included stripping away the immigration minister’s power to veto medical transfer requests.
It was discussed in the Labor party room on Tuesday, and the party is believed to be preparing conditions to the original bill.
Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said the decisions needed to be in the hands of medical professionals.
“Labor believes that medical transfers to alternative treatment locations for refugees in regional processing centres should be made available when treatment is recommended by appropriate medical practitioners,” she said.
“The PM and home affairs minister are not medical professionals. They should be listening to the advice of medical practitioners.”
Ms Chesters said the government needed to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees.
“There are still hundreds of refugees on both Nauru and Manus who need to be resettled in third countries. They cannot be left to languish in indefinite detention or migration limbo,” she said.
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