Earlier this year, parliament passed the Medivac bill which was supposed to allow asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru to access medical care in Australia. This bill was a historic defeat for the government.
If two or more doctors agree, a patient should be evacuated to the Australian mainland for urgent treatment. This decision is reviewed by a government appointed panel, but even then, the Home Affairs minister has the power to refuse them.
For the government, this right to basic healthcare was too much. Almost immediately Morrison announced that he would reopen Christmas Island. This would allow them to avoid their responsibilities and ignore the Medivac bill.
While no one has been sent to Christmas Island yet, the government says they will now send all refugees there first for treatment, completely ignoring that the health facilities on Christmas Island are severely lacking. So inadequate are the facilities, that not a single baby has been born on the island in two decades!
In addition to this, the Nauruan government passed their own laws banning medical transfers of refugees if they seek assessment from overseas-based doctors. This was done to undermine the bill passed in Australia, possibly under pressure from the Morrison government.
This will particularly affect refugees requiring services for mental health as a large amount of the treatment they receive is through telehealth services.
The government now says that if they win the upcoming election, they will repeal the Medivac bill and close the Christmas Island centre. Reopening the centre cost $185 million, an enormous amount of money to spend on a stunt in the lead up to the election.
Morrison claims that asylum seekers will seek to ‘game’ the system. But by reopening Christmas Island it is the Australian government that is gaming the system.
Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton said that Australians waiting for medical treatment will be displaced by refugees who seek urgent medical attention. This is a blatant use of scare tactics in the hope of winning some votes.
The real reason Australians are ‘displaced’ in the health system is because the government has refused to adequately invest in healthcare. Instead they want to give tax cuts to their rich mates.
Billions of dollars are currently spent paying private companies to run the offshore jails where refugees are locked up. If these jails were closed and the asylum seekers were settled onshore, in the community, this money could be spent on improved services for all.
By Kai Perry