Opposition Leader Bill Shorten talked the talk his left-wing supporters yearned to hear.
But in the wake of briefings from Australia’s security agencies and intense pressure from the government and some from within his own party, Shorten flip-flopped on backing a bill making it easier for asylum seekers to get medical treatment in Australia.
Labor is now seeking to amend the bill, so that detained asylum seekers who need medical treatment could be banned from coming to Australia on ‘character’ grounds.
The bill passed the Senate in December with Labor’s support, but now Labor wants the proposed bill to only apply to people currently in offshore detention — not new arrivals —and set longer timeframes for ministers to make decisions.
That’s a big step in the right direction. But the Coalition still think even with these changes that Australia’s border protection will be somewhat compromised.
Labor tries to fix security threat of medivac bill
At the beginning of the working week, Shorten was finally given the security briefing he had been putting off regarding the effect the medivac bill will have on current border security protocols.
One warning that security agencies have been vocal about is the fact that this bill could see up to 1,000 currently detained asylum seekers brought into Australia within weeks.
On Monday night, Labor MPs agreed they would negotiate with the crossbench to have Shorten’s desired amendments placed on the bill, according to the Australian Associated Press.
So in other words, it took less than 12 hours for Shorten to realise that the Coalition were right in their scepticism of the bill.
In essence, Labor is seeking to broaden the definitions of ‘security’ in the medivac bill by giving the minister more discretion to deny requested transfers. Suggestions to achieve this include blanket banning admittance of any asylum seekers who have committed serious crimes, or having a ‘character test’ enforced as part of the transfer process.
The left-wing party also said, likely as a bargaining tool, that they would advocate for the 24-hour proposed transfer decision period to be condensed to ‘as soon as practicable’.
Amendments don’t convince Greens or Liberals
Greens senator Nick McKim isn’t buying it, insisting that the only changes he’ll accept are ones that actually help refugees.
‘We’re not going to vote for something that would either make no difference, or make life worse for refugees,’ he told Sky News.
While we can’t see how these changes could be to the detriment of the current medivac-less state for refugees, there is some sense in McKim’s opinion that they would ‘make no difference’.
As Peter Dutton has argued, Labor’s proposed amendments seem ‘unnecessary and counterproductive’ as they still don’t revert the undermining of offshore processing by giving transfer authority to doctors.
He also believes the people smuggling trade would reignite by asylum seekers who may feel they won’t pass the character test.
And Prime Minister Scott Morrison isn’t at all up for these ‘superfluous’ negotiations on the bill, convinced that none of the amendments can secure the strict offshore processing he is after.
‘I will not give a leave pass to this parliament to weaken our border security,’ Morrison said.
Shorten thinks he’s fixed the problem
AAP reports that over 4,500 doctors have signed a petition in favour of this medivac bill. Apparently there are around 60 asylum seekers currently held offshore which need urgent medical attention.
If these 60 are admitted into the mainland for treatment, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a fair dose of self-inflicted harm can give the other 900 or so asylum seekers a pass into the country.
But Shorten doesn’t think it is an either-or scenario, believing there is a right balance between strong borders and fair treatment of refugees.
‘The current government confuses stubbornness with strength.
‘What I’ve done is listened to the border experts and listened to the refugee advocates.
‘I think this is not an issue which should be dividing the nation.’
This outlook is sure to change when an asylum seeker suffering from a severe case of the flu isn’t admitted into Australia because of his violent track record…and the crossbenchers deem it a discriminative and unfair decision.
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