The Medical Evacuation bill might have passed the Lower House last week, but that doesn’t mean the issue has been put to bed as the major parties remain locked in a heated debate over the topic of border security.
Taking a fresh swipe at the legislation – which passed against their will with the support of Labor, the Greens and the crossbench last Tuesday – the Liberal National Party have now claimed that the bill contains “drafting errors” which could allegedly render the government unable to send asylum seekers back to Manus Island and Nauru following treatment.
The bill granted medical professionals a greater say on whether asylum seekers – restricted to those currently on Manus and Nauru – should be sent to Australia for medical treatment, although the Home Affairs Minister can still object on national security or character grounds.
However Attorney-General Christian Porter told the ABC he received advice from the Australia Government Solicitors yesterday which suggests the legislation – which is yet to be given royal assent – contains loopholes that could see ill asylum seekers given a “one-way ticket” to Australia.
Speaking to RN Breakfast on Thursday, Porter said: “It is a terrible law, but this legal loophole is significant. It means, in effect, you will be bringing people from Manus and Nauru, who are not in detention, to Christmas Island, placing them in detention and with no lawful authority to send them back.”
The loophole apparently relates to one of the amendments, which was allegedly not linked back to the relevant section of the existing Migration Act.
Despite discussing the advice on national radio, the Attorney-General has refused to publicly release it, with fellow MPs including independent member for Wentworth Dr Kerryn Phelps, who initially introduced the bill in the House of Representatives, criticising his decision to do so.
Christian Porter refusing to release Solicitor General’s advice on return of temporary medical transfers of sick people.
— 💧Prof Kerryn Phelps AM (@drkerrynphelps) February 20, 2019
Porter’s comments come after it was revealed earlier this week that ill asylum seekers and refugees would be transferred first to Christmas Island for medical attention, rather than the mainland, with home affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo telling a senate estimates hearing that “the mainland will be utilised” if specialist treatment, that cannot be provided offshore, is needed.
Speaking on Tuesday, Labor leader Bill Shorten said he was “fine” with the government’s policy to first send people to Christmas Island, which is an external Australian territory, telling ABC Radio: “The issue here is the safe treatment of people within the context of strong borders.”
Last week Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the reopening of the Christmas Island detention centre, telling reporters during a press conference outside of Parliament House that the Medevac Bill had “weakened the country’s borders”.
“This parliament has already tipped its hand enough to people smugglers,” the PM said. “I won’t be doing that. We have approved putting in place the reopening of the Christmas Island detention facilities, both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers.”
The detention centre, which was initially commissioned by John Howard but first used in 2008 by Rudd’s Labor government, was closed in October 2018.