24 July 2019






I must say the Member for Isaacs, the Shadow Attorney-General, is a hard act to follow. We've heard a lot of debate here in this place—much of it academic and political—but to hear such a harrowing story really, really does put into context just what we're dealing with and just what we're talking about here. There were, to me, some unbelievable facts expounded in that story just now told by the Member for Isaacs. The fact that the minister did not respond a single time to any of the letters that were sent to him by the people acting on behalf of this family leads me to believe that these are people that the government has forgotten and wants to continue to forget. This motion that we see before us today, this migration amendment, which the government has termed 'repairing medical transfers' isn't at all about repairing anything. It's not about repairing a single thing. It's about repealing something that works so that they can continue to treat these people as people who they can just forget.

I want to use this time here in Parliament to explore some of the more substantive questions around the purpose of this bill and the government's agenda in trying to pass this bill. Quite frankly, I'm looking at this bill and the only purpose I can see is to undo a process that was put in place and that, thus far, has worked very well but that also, as the Member for Isaacs just pointed out with the story that he told, was absolutely necessary. So what are we talking about here? What are we talking about with this bill? First of all, we're not talking about thousands of people flooding our shores, pretending to be gravely ill just so they can step foot into an Australian hospital. No, we're not talking about that. We're not talking about so many people rushing to take advantage of such a weakened border security that the government has to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to reopen Christmas Island for a photo opportunity. That's not what we're talking about.

Since the passing of the Medevac bill, the government has approved around 90 transfers, and 20 of those cases have been referred to the Independent Health Advice Panel. Of those 20 cases, the panel upheld the Minister's decision not to transfer the individual 13 times and overturned the ,inister's decision just seven times. There's no hint here at all of thousands of people flooding our shores; no hint here at all of a need to reopen the Christmas Island detention centre; and no hint here at all of Australia being bombarded by people who are trying somehow to pull the wool over our eyes by self-harming.

What are we talking about here? We're not talking about security, because all of those seven patients who were transferred to Australia without ministerial approval, where the Independent Health Advice Panel overturned the Minister's decision—remember, there were just seven of them—were not rejected on security grounds. The minister did not reject them on security grounds or on character concerns. I repeat: not rejected by the minister because of security concerns but on medical grounds.

These individuals were only transferred after being assessed by a panel of doctors that the minister himself appointed, including the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer and the Surgeon General of Australian Border Force. That means that every other asylum seeker or refugee that has come to Australia for urgent medical care has been approved by either Minister Dutton or Minister Coleman. So, if we're not talking about thousands of people flooding our shores pretending to be sick and we're not talking about security, perhaps we're talking about two doctors from Nimbin. Perhaps that's what we're talking about. Are we talking about two doctors from Nimbin deciding who comes here? That is yet another false claim by the minister because, at every step of this process outlined in the medevac bill, through every measure of this bill, the government, or government-appointed doctors, control who comes to Australia.

We're also not talking about repairing medical transfers as this bill suggests, and I believe that this is the biggest misrepresentation and manipulation in this bill that the government is trying to put forward. We are talking about the minister seeking to revert back to a flawed medical transfer system—a medical transfer system that allowed a family to experience such grave medical concerns and not get the medical attention that they are entitled to because they are under our guardianship, a flawed medical system that's failing to provide adequate and timely medical care to refugees and asylum seekers in regional processing centres. Time and time again, Labor has had to explain this process and why it is needed, only to have the minister stand up and make false claims about the legislation—using misrepresentation, using fear, using falsities to construct a straw man argument that, somehow, providing essential medical care to people who are under our guardianship, through a rigorous process of approvals, where the minister has the ability to reject applications on security grounds and where a panel of doctors, appointed by the minister, can make a determination based on medical grounds, presents a security risk. Very simply, it does not.

This entire bill is based on misrepresentation, this entire bill is based on falsehoods, this entire bill is based on manipulation, and this entire bill is based on the politics of fear that has, time and time and time again, sought to divide Australia by demonising people. But, worse than demonising, it treats them like the forgotten people; it treats them like they don't matter—not even answering a letter from a lawyer raising grave concerns about the health and the mental health of an entire family who have already fled persecution and have been in detention for six years.

I know that my colleagues have spoken at length about this, and I really, really do hope that the government heed the words that have been spoken here today, in this place, about this bill. I hope that the government listen to the story that was told by the member for Isaacs about this family. I hope that they find it within their hearts to ensure that never happens again, and the way to ensure that never happens again is to leave this bill to do that job, leave this bill to ensure that people like this family get the medical help that they need, because they are under our guardianship, because we have a responsibility to do that and because, before medevac, the system wasn't working.