Medevac: Let's put some truths on the table

24 July 2019

I rise to speak against this matter of public importance, which contains a lot of mistruths about what the medevac legislation actually does. I've heard from some of the government senators today as they agree with the matter of public importance, somehow buying into the argument there's something deeply flawed with the medevac legislation. But in my contribution today I really want to start to put the truth on the table.

We've heard government senators in particular talk about immigration and border control. That's not what the medevac legislation is about. It is about dealing with sick people in a fair and appropriate way, in a way that I believe most Australians would want to be treated if they found themselves in a situation where there wasn't expert medical attention available to them. I've heard government senators say today that they take the advice of experts. Well, that medevac bill came from a groundswell of doctors—thousands of doctors across the country—GPs and specialists, who were very concerned about the health and wellbeing of refugees on Manus and Nauru. They're the experts, yet, when those experts speak, the Morrison government doesn't want to listen to them. Somehow it makes it about weakening our borders and so on.

Who could forget that earlier this year we saw the absolute farce, the political expediency of a government so desperate that they suddenly announced, at the cost of billions of dollars, the reopening of the Christmas Island detention centre. According to the government—if you believed the sort of nonsense they were peddling—we were going to have thousands of people seeking asylum arriving at our borders as a result of the medevac legislation. Anyone who cares to look at that legislation knows that it applies only to the current cohort of refugees. It doesn't have a future. It applies to the current cohort. It doesn't apply to anyone who arrives in Australia, whether by boat or by plane. It simply applies to those who currently need medical help. There was a need for this legislation. All of us have heard the horror stories of children refusing to eat, of children not meeting milestones and of adults dying of horrific injuries that started as a very small issue. Had those issues been treated in Australia, they wouldn't have lost their lives. So it was actually needed.

Let's put some other truths on the table. The government controls this process at all times. It's not about two doctors in some beachside suburb filling out a form. The government maintains control. Let's put some more facts on the table. How many refugees have been transferred to Australia since that medevac legislation came into place? Just 70. That's right—just 70. And only seven have been medevaced to Australia against the government's wishes. We just heard from government senators about how we're weakening our borders and how we're opening the gates, but none of that is true. This legislation is about giving people who are sick the opportunity, if they can't be treated where they are, to be brought to Australia. And fair-minded Australians would support that sort of move.

As I said, we heard that the Christmas Island detention centre was reopened. We saw that disgraceful use of taxpayers' money when the Prime Minister flew right across Australia to Christmas Island. As a Western Australian senator, I know Christmas Island is part of the electorates in Western Australia. We saw the Prime Minister with an entourage of media go and take photos and look at all the medical equipment and all of that. Then what happened? Suddenly, quietly, we're not doing that anymore. That's been closed, as we always knew it would be. It suited the government's purpose at the time to try and scare people. This legislation is designed for a specific group of people—it enables them to get the health care they should so rightly receive—yet the government tried to paint it that there would be thousands and thousands of people coming to our shores seeking asylum. Well, that just hasn't happened. It simply hasn't happened.

What Labor want to do—and we supported the medevac legislation—is ensure that people who are sick get the medical treatment that they are entitled to receive. We took the advice of experts. We did talk to security people, which is why Labor also ensured that the minister—currently Mr Dutton—has the final discretion over medical transfers.

Why won't those opposite, the government, talk about the truth of this legislation? It won't, because that doesn't suit their narrative. They want to continue to scare Australians—to scare them about taxes, to scare them about people coming to our country uninvited. They want to scare them about weakened borders because it suits their narrative. As we saw earlier this week, the government really doesn't have a plan. It doesn't have a legislation agenda. We saw at 8.25 pm on Tuesday that suddenly we were doing the address-in-reply. Guess what? The government had no more business. So it suits them to continue with this scare narrative. Whatever it's about, they want to paint this scary picture or blame others, when all this legislation is seeking to do is take people who are sick and enable them, if two doctors—which the government has complete control over—sign off so they can be brought here for treatment.

The other thing that you never hear the government talk about is that the government itself has brought thousands of people here. There are already thousands of people in Australia right now—men, women and children—receiving treatment. They are refugees. Yet, under the medevac bill, we've had 70. On one side we've got 70 as part of this new legislation against the thousands the government have already brought here. But you won't hear them talk about that, because it doesn't suit the narrative of: 'Let's make people afraid and make people think this legislation is all about weakening borders. Let's make people think this legislation is all about immigration.' They're hell-bent on repealing it.

They've had Senator Roberts today fire the first shot for them, to test us out. Well, Labor's not backing away from this. We're not backing away from our support for the position that people who are sick need to be treated decently. That is our position. It has been our position from day one and will remain our position. Good on the government. They've tested the waters today. They've seen where their support is.

This medevac legislation is really about giving sick people a fair go. The government is failing the basic test of truthfulness with the sort of rhetoric and spin that it's putting out. We've seen a minister who routinely manipulates, misrepresents and mischaracterises what's really happening. For what? For political gain. We often hear in this place that we shouldn't play politics with this, that and the other thing. Well, it's not people on this side of the chamber who are playing politics here, it's the government. It's the government that would try to mislead Australians into thinking that there are thousands of people coming when there are 70. It's a government that only talks about weakening our borders, when this is about sick people getting the treatment they're entitled to.

We hear the government trying to put a position that this is all about immigration and about controlling who comes here and who doesn't, when the actual truth is that many more people came to be treated in Australia before this legislation was put in place than the 70 who have come since we've had the medevac bill. So we will continue to oppose the government's attempts to repeal this legislation because, at the end of the day, this is about sick people getting the treatment they deserve, signed off on by expert doctors.