After running out of time on the last day of parliament seating for 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison managed to postpone the passing of a bill that would allow sick asylum seekers from Manus Island and Nauru to be transferred to the Australian mainland for medical treatment.
But parliament is recommencing next week, and Labor and crossbench MPs are expected to revisit and back this asylum seeker bill.
So it looks like perfect timing for the independent asylum seeker review panel that the federal government is organising, which is set to provide ‘greater assurance’ over such medical transfers from their regional processing centres to Australia and third countries, as AAP reports.
Details of the panel plan
This new plan involves a panel of medical experts who will review any blocked transfer of an asylum seeker, to see if there is a need for immediate medical assistance. They will need to report back to parliament twice a year.
The panel would include experts with experience in torture and trauma counselling and clinical mental health. There would also be members from the Australian Medical Association as well as the Department of Home Affairs’ chief medical officer. The commonwealth’s chief medical officer would be chairman.
The Department of Home Affairs would remain overseers of every transfer decision, but the panel clearly provides important medical consultation to inform the decision-making.
Morrison said of the new plan:
‘We’ve always had a medical transfers process but this is about giving Australians greater assurance that people in offshore processing get the right support.
‘Operation Sovereign Borders strikes the compassionate balance between stopping the boats and ensuring genuine asylum seekers are recognised and resettled in a safe third country.’
AAP also reports there has been an inpatient mental health service established at Pacific International Hospital in Port Moresby, to help asylum seekers sent to the country by the government.
Why Phelps’ bill shouldn’t get the support
While there are similarities to the original bill offered by MP Kerryn Phelps, Morrison believes there is a key difference that would ultimately undermine Australian border security should the bill be passed next week.
Morrison has reportedly written to opposition leader Bill Shorten, urging him to reverse his support of Phelps’ bill and instead agree to this panel plan.
As Morrison reportedly wrote:
‘I appreciate that Australians are seeking greater assurance about the healthcare that is being made available to those who continue to live in PNG and Nauru.
‘The reason that the amendments passed by the Senate will end offshore processing is simply that they take the final decision of who comes to Australia out of the hands of the elected government of this country.
‘The amendments permit individuals on Nauru and Manus to gain entry to Australia on the say-so of any two doctors in this country.’
Over the weekend, it was revealed that only single male asylum seekers are now held in Nauru, with the last four children preparing to fly to the US for resettlement with their families.
That means nearly 120 children have been transferred with their families off the island since the tail end of 2018.
That’s a very promising picture.
And so is Morrison’s plan to alleviate Aussies’ concerns over whether we are making effort to alleviate the asylum seeker problem. Surely this is enough?
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