Medevac repealed in a vote swung by secret deal with Senator Lambie

New Zealand resettlement rumoured to be back on the table

Medevac laws passed earlier this year have been repealed, with the deciding vote cast by cross bench Senator Jacqui Lambie.

Lambie reached a deal with the Government that she “can not disclose” due to “national security reasons” – a deal that is strongly rumoured to be the Government’s agreement to accept New Zealand’s offer to permanently resettle asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru.

Christian asylum seeker advocates are disappointed with the repeal

During a heated Senate debate dominated by calls for Lambie to reveal details of the deal, the Tasmanian senator became tearful. The weight of the decision clearly on her, she said. “I get that this vote will disappoint many, and I apologise for that. This is a matter of conscience.”

However, Lambie said she was “more than satisfied that the conditions that led to Medevac being passed aren’t the same as the conditions today”.

The Medevac law repeal gives the Minister for Home Affairs greater powers to oppose the transfer to Australia of sick asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru.

Under the Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill which passed in February this year, just under 180 people have been moved to Australia for medical treatment.

The laws saw medical transfers of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru triggered by recommendations from two independent treating doctors who believed the patient was not able to receive the medical care they need in PNG or Nauru.

Whilst under Medevac laws, the Minister for Home Affairs retained the opportunity to review every transfer. If the minister sought to refuse a transfer, they were required to do so 72 hours from the doctors’ recommendation – so that a patient’s treatment would not be delayed by prolonged court cases or bureaucracy (as they had been before Medevac laws).

But today’s Medevac repeal puts power back in the hands of the Minister of Home Affairs, rather than doctors. The process of applying for medical transfer is again able to be prolonged, if the Government decides to fight applications through the courts.

Christian asylum seeker advocates are disappointed with the repeal, though they remain hopeful about rumours Lambie negotiated a deal with the Government to accept New Zealand’s offer to permanently resettle asylum seekers from Manus and Nauru.

However, the reason Medevac laws needed to be repealed in order to resettle asylum seekers in New Zealand appears to be political, rather than due to the two issues being necessarily linked.

“Minister [for Home Affairs, Peter] Dutton has approved 86 per cent of Medevac applications since February, so clearly the laws were working and have not compromised Australia’s border security,” Community Council for Australia Chair Tim Costello told Eternity.

“If there is a New Zealand deal, then I welcome it, but why the games denying us the right to know?”

“[It is] time for medical ethics to take precedence over politics” – Common Grace

Welcoming Australia Founder Brad Chilcott took a similar view, telling Eternity that “before Medevac, the Morrison Government spent tens of thousands of dollars going to court to prevent people receiving the medical care they needed. Twelve people died.”

“Hundreds of people, damaged by our policies, will now find it harder to receive care for the suffering we have caused – and all for the sake of a political victory.”

During a fierce senate debate, Christian Senator Kristina Keneally (ALP) reminded senators of the Australian public’s support for Medevac laws, saying that 62 per cent were polled as supportive.

“You can go strong on borders without going weak on humanity,” Senator Keneally stated.

Similarly, Christian social justice movement Common Grace said it was “time for medical ethics to take precedence over politics”. The group called on Christians to pray for Senator Jacqui Lambie, “that she would continue to hear and respond to the calls [for] compassion and care from doctors and medical professionals, and that she remains strongly committed to seeking a compassionate solution”.

With details of Lambie’s secret deal with the Government yet to be announced, many Christians continue to pray today that her dealing has secured some benefit for those people who came to Australia seeking refuge and, instead, faced indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru.