Last Thursday Labor voted for an extraordinary change to Australia's offshore processing laws. They voted for laws that would end offshore processing as we know it.
The laws purport to be about medical transfers, but are actually about ending offshore processing. An existing process is in place for medical transfers to third countries from Manus and Nauru, where required.
Under this existing process more than 200 children have been transferred for medical treatment. There are currently only 10 children on Nauru, with four to shortly resettle in the United States.
Below is a statement of facts related to Labor's laws, and the implications of those laws for offshore processing and border security.
Facts on Labor's laws
- The laws apply to all adults on Manus Island and Nauru now, and anyone who arrives by boat and is taken to a regional processing country in the future
- This includes refugees and people who have been found not to be refugees
- Under the laws a person is required to get two medical certificates from doctors to say that it is necessary that they come to Australia for "assessment or treatment"
- The doctors can be located anywhere in Australia and consult the person remotely
- The doctors do not have to find that the person is sick. They simply have to find that it is necessary that the person comes to Australia for "assessment"
- There is no limit to the number of doctors a person can consult. They could consult dozens of doctors - they just need two to provide the certificate
- There is no limit to the number of certificates that a doctor could issue. One doctor could issue certificates to dozens of people
- There is no requirement that people on Manus or Nauru consult doctors on Manus or Nauru. They could just consult doctors in Australia, via Skype
- If the person gets two doctor's certificates, then:
- Unless the Minister personally objects within 24 hours, the person, their family and any other people nominated by doctors to accompany them must come to Australia
- The Minister can only object on two grounds:
- Medical – if within the 24 hour period allocated, the Minister, "reasonably believes that it is not necessary to remove the person from a regional processing country for appropriate assessment or treatment"
- Security – if within the 24 hour period allocated, the Minister believes that the person fits within the definition of "security" within the ASIO Act. The definition of security in the ASIO Act does not include the vast majority of criminal offences, or broader matters related to character
- If the Minister objects on medical grounds, the issue goes to a medical panel, which has 24 hours to conduct an assessment. If the medical panel does not complete its assessment within 24 hours, or if the medical panel agrees that the person should come to Australia, they must come to Australia unless the Minister believes that they fit within the limited definition of "security" in the ASIO Act.
Implications of laws under a Labor Government
- It will be straightforward for people on Manus and Nauru to find two doctors, from anywhere in Australia, that say they should come to Australia for medical assessment
- No Labor Minister will intervene in this process by objecting on medical grounds within 24 hours
- The definition of "security" in the ASIO Act is very narrow and the Minister only has 24 hours to decide whether a person would fit within it. This applies not only to the person being transferred, but also their family and any other people nominated by doctors to accompany them to Australia. As a result, substantially everyone on Manus and Nauru who wants to come to Australia would be in Australia within a short period
- As the law applies to current and future boat arrivals, the following scenario would occur under a Labor Government:
- A boat arrives
- People are taken to a regional processing country
- Soon after, those people obtain two medical certificates to say that they should be brought to Australia for assessment
- They come to Australia
- The pathway to Australia will be straightforward. This will restart boat arrivals.
The last time Labor oversaw our border security:
- 50,000 people arrived on 800 boats
- 8,000 children were placed in detention
- 1,200 people drowned at sea, including children.
Labor's laws, if implemented, will see us faced with this human tragedy once again.
There is nothing compassionate about that.
Bill Shorten must explain why Labor voted for these laws.