Refugee advocates, lawyers and human rights groups unite in rejecting Government’s medical panel proposal

A Government proposal to address the medical crisis engulfing critically ill refugees detained offshore has been firmly rejected as window dressing on the existing unconscionable process which has seen 12 people die in offshore detention in the past five years.

A coalition of refugee and humanitarian organisations has confirmed its support for a crossbench, Greens and ALP-supported Urgent Medical Treatment Bill, which will go before the Lower House when Parliament resumes on February 12. The Bill passed the Senate last year, despite the filibustering of the Government.

The Morrison proposal released today does not make the necessary changes required to ensure people in offshore detention are provided with adequate medical care. And only limited details have been provided.

The proposal mirrors previous ineffectual mechanisms set up by Scott Morrison promising to address critical issues in offshore detention (such as a Child Protection Panel three years ago, which left hundreds of children in detention until last week). In that case, no significant changes were made after the glare of the public spotlight faded.

As it stands, politicians and bureaucrats can override doctors’ orders about treatment of sick refugees in offshore detention.

The Prime Minister’s proposed Medical Transfer Clinical Assurance Panel will be hand-picked by the Minister, with no assurance as to the independence of its members, whereas the Urgent Medical Treatment Bill would provide for review of the Minister’s decisions by an independent medical panel including members nominated by peak medical bodies.

The Bill also provides the Minister with the ability to veto transfers on national security grounds.

Mr Morrison’s proposal does not specify a time limit for reviews. And it will not be enshrined in legislation - meaning it could be changed for any reason at any time.

The cross-bench/Labor Bill is the only enforceable mechanism that ensures people get lifesaving medical treatment urgently.

The coalition of six organisations – the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the Human Rights Law Centre, GetUp!, the Refugee Council of Australia, World Vision Australia and Welcoming Australia  - today reaffirmed that passing the Bill before the Lower House was critical to giving refugees access to adequate lifesaving medical treatment.

Without urgent medical treatment in Australia, medical professionals have warned that another person held offshore will die.

Jana Favero, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre: “The Prime Minister has not provided any information on how long his panel will take to review doctor’s medical transfer requests that have been delayed up to five years already. Will he make critically sick people wait for another three months? Or another three years?”

“This is not a solution to the medical crisis in offshore processing, it is a last-ditch effort to divide cross bench and Labor MPs, all just to save the face of a dying government while people on Manus and Nauru continue to mentally and physically deteriorate to the point of being at risk of dying from medical neglect.”  

Kelly Nicholls Refugee Council of Australia spokesperson: “The government’s proposal perpetuates an overly politicized, broken system that is costing lives and causing horrific suffering. It gives ultimate say over medical decisions to bureaucrats rather than doctors, despite Government-appointed doctors speaking out about Border Force’s consistent undermining of their recommendations.”

Claire Rogers, World Vision Australia chief executive officer: “I am gravely concerned for the physical and mental health of more than 1000 people still detained on Manus and Nauru, including young adults sent there as unaccompanied minors. It is horrifying that 12 people have died in this offshore detention and I call for our political leaders to stop playing politics and back the Bill.”

Freya Dinshaw, Senior Lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre: “There is an urgent medical crisis on Nauru and Manus, and it needs an urgent medical solution. This Government has fought evacuations of critically ill people through the courts every step of the way. This Bill would ensure these people receive the urgent, lifesaving medical care they need. The Prime Minister needs to now get out of the way and allow for a humane resolution not more politics.”

Shen Narayanasamy, GetUp’s Human Rights Director: “Make no mistake, the Morrison Government were forced by the weight of massive public pressure to evacuate sick children and their families detained on Nauru. It’s time to fix the broken transfer process in offshore detention with a proper medical solution - our members back this bill.”


Brad Chilcott, Founder of Welcoming Australia: “There is a Bill before the Parliament to give critically ill refugees access to the medical care they desperately need. It’s supported by doctors; lawyers; humanitarian, refugee and community services organisations and hundreds of thousands of Australians. If Prime Minister Morrison was serious about alleviating the suffering of people in indefinite detention he would simply back this Bill today and enshrine it in legislation at the first opportunity.”

For more information or for interview requests, contact:

Ruth Lamperd (World Vision News Editor), 0417 765 947

Marcella Brassett (Asylum Seeker Resource Centre):  0411 026 142,

Michelle Bennett (Human Rights Law Centre): 0419 100 519,

PICTURE: The crossbench, Greens and ALP  supported the Urgent Medical Treatment Bill, which will go before the Lower House when Parliament resumes on February 12. 

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