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Watershed moment in refugee politics and Australian history

Refugee and human rights organisations rejoiced today as the House of Representatives overturned 90 years of tradition and a toxic debate to vote authoritatively to deliver medical care to the refugees who have spent 5 years detained offshore.

A coalition of MPs made up of the ALP, key crossbench members, Dr Kerryn Phelps MP, Andrew Wilkie MP, Rebekha Sharkie MP, Julia Banks MP, Cathy McGowan MP and the Greens today agreed on clarifications to a Bill that was written with considered input from across the political spectrum and with the advice of both legal and national security experts.

The legislation comes in response to an acute medical crisis in Australia’s offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, which has seen 12 people die in the last five years and numerous incidents of suicide and self harm.

The Human Rights Law Centre, together with the National Justice Project, a coalition of pro bono lawyers and case workers at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre have continued to take legal action to evacuate men and women to receive urgent life-saving medical care.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, GetUp, Human Rights Law Centre, Welcoming Australia, the Refugee Council of Australia and World Vision congratulate the Members of Parliament who worked together to create this consensus Bill.

The Bill will now be sent to the Senate, and the refugee sector is sure the broad spectrum of Senators that voted for the original Bill last year will stand strong in addressing the continuing medical crisis by passing the amended Bill this week.

Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director with the Human Rights Law Centre, said:

Today we saw politics at its best with MPs across the floor working together to ensure a humane solution. The current medical transfer system is broken. People needing urgent medical assistance have severely deteriorated and even died. Notably, the coroner found that the death of young man, Hamid Khazaei, was caused by medical failure and delays. We need to stop risking lives. We now call on the Senate to pass this bill as soon as possible.

Kelly Nicholls, Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) spokesperson, said:

The safety of lives must always come first. Doctors have been ignored for too long. People have died as a result. Pregnant women with complications have had to wait dangerously long to receive the treatment they need. Rape survivors have to had to have traumatic late term abortions due to government blocks. This bill changes the response to medical emergencies in offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru.

Kon Karapanagiotidis, CEO, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said:

Today is a landmark day. It is a victory for the national conscious of our nation and the triumph of compassion over the politics of fear and cruelty. Finally those that we promised to protect and care for, while seeking sanctuary have been realised today.

Shen Narayanasamy, Human Rights Director with GetUp!, said:

This is a watershed moment in Australian political history – because the 15 year trajectory of cruelty towards asylum seekers has ended. We thank the millions of people across this country who have fought so long for this victory and remember those people who have died in our name, that this bill would have saved.

Brad Chilcott, Founder, Welcoming Australia, said:

This bill simply ensures that people who need medical treatment get the care they need in order to save lives and alleviate suffering. The rest is political chicanery and fear-mongering.

We congratulate those in the Labor, Greens and on the cross-bench who have worked together to find consensus and call on the Government to join them by putting human lives above any political considerations and allow this Bill to swiftly pass through the Senate.

Media enquiries:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre: 0419 100 519