Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne has said that all people in offshore detention could “qualify” to travel to Australia under a medical transfer bill supported by the Opposition.
This week, the bill may be voted on in the House of Representatives, which would test the Government’s sway over Parliament just before a yet to be announced federal election.
On the ABC’s Insiders program, Mr Pyne was asked to justify the Government’s estimation that around 1000 asylum seekers and refugees in offshore detention were so ill that, under the proposed bill, doctors would recommend they all be moved to Australia for medical treatment.
Mr Pyne said “They could all qualify,” and that the Coalition was “not prepared to weaken border protection”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had attempted to propose an alternate solution, making the offer to create a new medical panel that would give advice regarding the health of those in offshore detention. However, such a panel would be unable to contest the final say of a Government minister who denied the medical transfer.
Mr Pyne has argued that the proposed amendments being supported by Labor would undermine ministerial discretion, jeopardising Australia’s border security and fuelling a new wave of people smuggling.
Labor has swung back at these comments, saying that the Government is desperate.
Labor MP Julie Collins said that “Labor’s position with regards to medical evacuations has not changed,” and that while Labor was committed to ensuring the health of refugees and asylum seekers that the party wanted to “ensure that there remains ministerial discretion”.
Independent MP Kerryn Phelps, who’s private members bill has been echoed in the proposed amendments, criticised Mr Pyne’s perspective, saying that “Boats never stopped trying to get here,”
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has also recently criticised Labor for ignoring the warnings of Australian security agencies regarding the bill, despite Labor denying they ever received security briefings.