This statement was delivered by Human Rights Law Centre Executive Director Hugh de Kretser at Parliament House, Canberra on 26 August, 2019.
Hugh de Kretser gave evidence to the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee and said the Medevac laws are an important safeguard that is helping to ensure vital medical treatment for seriously unwell refugees held by the Australian Government on Nauru and Manus.
The Australian Government has a duty of care to provide proper healthcare to the people it has held offshore on Nauru and Manus for six long years. Before the Medevac laws, it is clear that the Government was failing in its duty.
Before the Medevac Laws, the Human Rights Law Centre was forced to take legal action to help people who were at risk of death or serious injury to secure transfers to Australia for medical treatment.
We gathered medical reports and expert medical assessments and undertook legal advocacy for our clients with the Government. We were forced to threaten court cases and on many occasions we were forced to bring cases in the Federal Court.
The transfer system in place before Medevac wasn’t working. Transfers were at the complete discretion of the Minister. Lives were placed at risk because the Australian Government repeatedly failed to act on medical advice recommending sick people to be transferred to Australia. People died.
We were forced to bring court cases at all hours of the day and night because the Government would ignore or delay acting on medical evidence showing women, children and men were at risk of imminent death or serious injury. One case was heard on a Saturday night. Three cases were heard on Christmas Eve.
We regularly spoke with mothers and fathers who were forced to watch as their children wasted away before their eyes.
We spoke to husbands who weren’t sleeping because they couldn’t leave their wives alone due to untreated mental health conditions.
Time and time again, doctors called to tell us that the people we were helping were at real risk of death within days unless they were urgently transferred to Australia. Yet, often we could not even get a response from the Australian Government.
Every case we brought was successful in achieving a medical transfer. The threat of legal action prompted transfers in other cases. In total, 180 people were transferred through our interventions and many more were transferred through interventions by partners.
These cases show the system of medical care offshore was simply not working. No one should have to go to court to ensure a proper standard of medical care.
People have died because of Australian Government’s failures to ensure proper medical care for people it holds on Nauru & Manus. The Medevac laws established a robust, timely, doctor-led process for medical evacuations. The laws are working & should be retained. #SaveMedevac pic.twitter.com/8COrVYW7u8— Hugh de Kretser (@HughdeKretser) August 26, 2019
The Medevac laws introduced a better system, one that puts doctors at the heart of decisions about medical transfer. The laws established a fairer, more transparent process based on independent medical advice, which requires the Minister to make decisions and take action within appropriate timeframes.
As a member of the Medical Evacuation Response Group we are now working with doctors to help people to make applications under the Medevac Laws. The system is working. There is a robust, fair process, which is doctor-led and which has appropriate independent checks and balances.
Repealing the Medevac laws will mean that sick people held on Manus and Nauru have to return to the court process to seek access to medical care. The Australian Government has repeatedly demonstrated that without the Medevac laws, it will ignore the advice of doctors and will fail to transfer people even where life-saving medical care is urgently needed.
Repealing the Medevac laws will place lives at risk.