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Inside the Australian government's immigration detention facility on Manus Island.
Greens MP / Flickr
Health

Australia Passes Bill to Help Sick Refugees in Offshore Detention


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Access to adequate healthcare is not a privilege; it is a human right. Global Citizen campaigns on the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being. You can join us and take action on universal health coverage and the protection of asylum seekers and refugees here.

The Australian Federal Parliament has passed new laws that will fast-track medical evacuations for sick asylum seekers from offshore detention centers to Australia.   

The move has consumed Parliament this week with the legislation scarcely passing the Senate 36-34 Wednesday, with support from Labor, the Greens, and four crossbenchers. The bill's passing in the House of Representatives on Tuesday marks the first time in nearly 80 years that a government has lost a vote in the lower house.

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Under the legislation, two doctors will evaluate calls for medical transfers of those currently detained on Nauru and Manus Island. The Home Affairs Minister will then have 72 hours to concur to the doctor’s medical transfer decision. Should the minister deny the transfer on national security grounds, the decision will be reassigned to an Independent Health Advice Panel.

Last-minute negotiated amendments to the bill mean the doctors will not be paid, to align with the constitutional issue which forbids the Senate from forming bills that increase the spending of public money.

Despite the transfers only relating to the existing cohort of refugees, not any future arrivals, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced he fears the legislation will generate a flood of asylum-seeker boats.

"My job now is to ensure that the boats don’t come,” he told reporters at Parliament House, before stating he would increase border security patrols and reopen the Christmas Island Detention Center.

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Opposition Leader Bill Shorten discounted fears the law would entice would-be asylum seekers.

"I say to people trying to put out the welcome mat for people smugglers; the medivac legislation applies for people who are already there, it does not apply to anyone new. So if you think that by buying a ticket on an unsafe boat, paying a people smuggler, a criminal syndicate, you’ll get a better deal to come to Australia, you’re wrong,” he told Parliament, according to SBS. "I believe we can keep our borders secure, we can uphold national security, but still treat people humanely.”


The legislation comes in response to an array of reports that claim there is “compelling evidence” that refugees in Australian offshore detention centers are “suffering from serious physical and mental health conditions.” Throughout the last five years, 12 people have died in detention, and countless incidents of self-harm have been reported.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) and an array of refugee rights organizations celebrated Wednesday as the bill was passed. ASRC CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis called the new law “incredible.”

"It is a victory for the national consciousness of our nation and the triumph of compassion over the politics of fear and cruelty,” he stated. “Finally the rights of people that we promised to protect and care for while seeking sanctuary have been realized.”