Refugee Council of Australia
Kerryn Phelps and other crossbenchers and politicians supporting Kids Off Nauru Bill announcing it

Medevac Bill: The Facts

In November 2019 the Senate will vote whether to repeal or maintain the Medevac legislation. We need to show our elected representatives that there is a groundswell of public support for the life saving process. Please sign and share the petition here.
The Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018 – commonly referred to as the Medevac Bill, Medivac Bill or the Urgent Medical Treatment Bill (UMT) is now law. This law is designed to ensure timely and life-saving medical care is provided to people in offshore detention. This post has been updated to reflect changes made to the Bill before it was passed.

What does the Bill say?

  • The Bill states that in the event of a refugee or person seeking asylum requiring urgent medical assistance, two independent Australian doctors can recommend their temporary transfer to Australia.
  • To make this recommendation, the doctors must be of the clinical opinion that it is necessary to remove them from Manus Island or Nauru in order to provide appropriate treatment, which they are not otherwise receiving.
  • The Minister then has 72 hours to decide whether to approve the transfer or not. If the Minister refuses, they refer the decision on to the Independent Health Advice Panel (IHAP), which is comprised of independent doctors nominated by peak medical bodies.
  • The Minister can refuse to transfer someone if:
    • the Minister reasonably believes that it is not necessary to transfer the person for treatment or assessment
    • the Minister reasonably believes that transferring the person would harm Australia’s security, or
    • the person has a substantial criminal record and the Minister reasonably believes that the person would expose the Australian community to a serious risk of criminal conduct.
  • If the Minister refuses to transfer a person because the Minister believes it is not necessary for medical treatment or assessment, the medical transfer application will then be reviewed by the Independent Health Advisory Panel. The Panel is a group of medical experts and includes both Australian Government and independent doctors. The Panel will assess your medical transfer application within 72 hours and either recommend that your transfer be approved or refused.
  • If the Panel recommends that the transfer should be approved, the Minister has 24 hours to approve or refuse the transfer. The Minister can only refuse the transfer if they:
    • reasonably believes that transferring the person would harm Australia’s security; or
    • the person has a substantial criminal record and the Minister reasonably believes that the person would expose the Australian community to a serious risk of criminal conduct.

How does the Bill differ from the current system?

  • The Medevac Bill would see the creation of an independent medical process, based on the orders of two independent Australian doctors, taking medical decisions out of the hands of politicians and bureaucrats.
  • The process proposed will be clear, transparent, enforceable and timely. Until now, medical transfers have been hampered or blocked by delays and/or political obstruction.
  • Under the Medevac Bill, families would be able to stay together during medical treatment.
  • It is important to note that the Bill does not change Operation Sovereign Borders, boat turn backs, or other elements of either Coalition or Labor’s border policy, and does not provide for permanent resettlement in Australia.

Why is the Bill needed?

There is an urgent health crisis on Manus Island and Nauru:

  • Many people came into detention with pre-existing injuries and trauma. This has been compounded by a widespread deterioration of the mental and physical health of the people detained as a result of the offshore detention conditions.
  • 12 people have died in offshore detention to date. The inquiry into the case of Hamid Khazaei showed that he died as a direct result of the Australian Government’s refusal to follow medical orders.
  • There has been an epidemic of self harm, suicides and suicide attempts, some of which have even been made by young children. In 2016, UNHCR found that 88% of people on Manus Island were suffering from depression, anxiety and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • The medical facilities on Manus Island and Nauru are grossly inadequate for dealing with this crisis. Furthermore, the Australian Government has made drastic cuts to the support services and monitoring previously in place.

Read our report on Nauru

Read our report on Manus

Read more: Frequently asked questions about the Medevac Bill

What will happen now?

There are still a lot of questions about how the process will work. However, key national organisations have banded together to oversee and ensure the timely and orderly assessment of applications for medical transfers under the “Medevac Bill” by creating the Medical Evacuation Response Group (Medevac Group).

The Medevac Group is made up of specialists in medevac processes for sick refugees including doctors, caseworkers, counsellors and lawyers who will work together to ensure access to medical evacuations under the Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) bill. The bill is expected to become law this week.

The Medevac Group is independent of the Australian Government and will ensure that critically sick people are able to be flown to Australia for urgent and critical medical care that is otherwise unavailable on Nauru or Manus Island.

Read the media release on the establishment of the Group

For more information on the Group and the process, see its website.

The Medical Evacuation Response Group

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