WACA would like to acknowledge the work of the community - people in detention, activists and advocates - in the passage of the Medical Evacuation Bill.
It is heartening to know that people in need of medical care will now receive medical care, which successive governments have denied them.
Access to health care for all is a basic human right.
Yet, we cannot ignore the compromises made in this bill which include:
- The “re-opening” of Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre (CIIDC is not closed, it has been in standby mode for the past 3 months)
- Labor’s ‘Cohort Limitation’ amendment of the bill, which only allows medical evacuation to people currently held on Manus Island and Nauru. It does not extend to future arrivals.
- The evacuation decision period is extended - from the 24-hour period contained in the original bill to the amended 72 hours - with provision for further deliberation beyond that.
- The Minister may still overrule the professional recommendations of medical doctors. The same medical profession described in the last week by Morrison and his ministers as weakened by compassion.
Evacuation timing is critical. Asylum seeker Hamid Khazaei, imprisoned on Manus Island, died from a treatable infection in the 72 hours of indecision from when he became critically ill to his death. He was moribund on medivac and declared dead on Australian soil.
Both the Liberal and Labor parties would have the public believe that Australia is under threat from asylum seekers, as would-be “paedophiles, rapists and murderers” (their words), and that their policies ensure “strong borders” to protect us. We remind the public that the majority of people detained on Manus Island and Nauru have already been determined to be refugees, both by UNHCR and by the Australian government, and therefore cannot have a serious criminal record. It is worth noting here that some asylum seekers may have been subject to draconian charges relating to homosexuality, adultery and protest activity in their country of origin. Others include stateless people who are currently imprisoned indefinitely. Furthermore, what kind of society refuses medical treatment to a critically ill human being, criminal record or not?
With the reactivation of Christmas Island, it is now likely that detainees in mainland immigration detention centres will be transferred there to make room for the Manus/Nauru cohort transferred for medical treatment. Home Affairs Minister Dutton has stated that of those potentially transferred for treatment, very few will qualify for community detention and most will be held in Immigration Detention Centres. This is an appalling trade-off, where one set of human misery and torture is exchanged for another.
This government continues to use the lives of refugees and asylum seekers as political hostages. In the race to the bottom to attract votes at all costs, it is prepared to trade in racist tropes and blatant lies. Labor claims that it can be “humane” as well as “strong on borders” but it is complicit as demonstrated in its amendments to the bill.
The bottom line is that this Bill does not shut down the death camps. Rather it shuffles tortured people around the immigration detention system. The Morrison government has stated its intention to delay the enactment of the bill and Morrison has stated that if in power after the next election, he will reverse the Bill. This means that every person detained on Manus Island and Nauru remains at risk while both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party continue to play politics with their lives.
The reality is that this Bill does not address the illegal and indefinite detention of people in the government’s offshore detention camps. It does not guarantee safety or medical care for those trapped in these gulags or for those unfortunate enough to be sent there in the future.
T he Liberal and Labor Parties are both prepared to sacrifice human lives for political ambition and power.
WACA will continue to work in solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees to close the camps and to end mandatory detention once and for all.