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A bill intended to give doctors greater influence on medical evacuations from offshore Australian immigration detention centres has passed the Senate 31 – 28 but will not pass parliament until 2019 after the major parties utilised a series of procrastination tactics.

The Morrison government delayed voting on the bill, hence blocking the bill’s passage to the lower house, by filibustering the debate in the Senate due to fears the amendments would cause the government to lose a vote in the House of Representatives. Losing a vote in the House of Representatives would be dangerous for the government who are at risk of losing control of the Parliament. There has only been one other example where a government has a bill on the floor of the Parliament and this triggered a subsequent general election.

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By the time the Senate debate was finished, the House – where the bill needs to pass to become law – was adjourning for the year, making it impossible for the legislation to be considered before the next sitting in February.

"Thank you to everyone helping to #BackTheBill. We got changes through the Senate today,” independent MP Kerryn Phelps, who initially introduced the bill to parliament, stated. “We now have to wait until February to get a better system for medical transfers from Manus and Nauru.”

The Urgent Medical Treatment Bill passed the Senate with the support of Labor, the Greens, Centre Alliance, Senator Derryn Hinch and Senator Tim Storer. Alongside medical transfer provisions, the bill would also ensure refugees and asylum seekers have access to Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has accused Labor of attempting to “water down” the nation’s stringent offshore detention process.

"I will do everything in my power to ensure that these suggested changes that would undermine our border protection laws never see the light of day,” he told reporters. “I will do whatever I can. I will never move from where I stand on this issue.”

The Australian Medical Association has long declared there is “compelling evidence” that shows asylum seekers on Nauru are “suffering from serious physical and mental health conditions.” AMA President Tony Bartone has voiced his support for the bill.

"The amended bill is an important measure that will allow the temporary transfer to Australia from Nauru and Manus sooner for those in need of urgent care,” he stated. “The AMA has been advocating strongly for better health care for asylum seekers for many years.”

On Dec. 3, Doctors Without Borders released a report which revealed widespread extreme mental health suffering on Nauru. The report further disclosed that of the patients the organisation treated while stationed on the island, close to one-third had attempted suicide while 12 people were diagnosed with the rare psychiatric condition of ‘resignation syndrome’.

Yesterday, the organisation took to Twitter to relay their anger over the petty party politics surrounding the Urgent Medical Treatment Bill.

"[Doctors Without Borders] is appalled that the parliament has failed to pass the bill for emergency medical transfers from Nauru and Manus,” the tweet read. “The government continues to prioritise politics over their duty of care to sick.”

The decision now lies pending until the Parliament resumes. Asylum seeker protection organisations and doctors have announced they will long fight for adequate health care for those in detention and continue to urge the authorities to grant them permission to return to their life saving work.


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Doctors Call for the Urgent Passing of a Bill To Help Sick Kids on Nauru

By Madeleine Keck