'No Excuse' To Repeal Medevac Law, Phelps Pleads

The only thing that needs "repair" is Australia's human rights reputation, former MP Kerryn Phelps said, as the government seeks to repeal the contentious refugee medical evacuation laws.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton introduced the imaginatively-titled Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill on Thursday, aimed at overhauling legislation passed in the dying days of the 45th parliament.

The bill, which controversially passed against the wishes of the government, expanded the ability of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru to be brought to Australia for hospital treatment.

This new amendment aims to roll back those powers, designed to lead to "fewer medical transfers to Australia from regional processing countries" and give the government more power to send people back.

Peter Dutton
Peter Dutton wants to repeal the medevac laws. Photo: AAP

It claims the medevac laws "undermine" regional processing and offer "very limited scope" to refuse transfers, something supporters have denied. It also claims the law impinges on the "sovereignty of Papua New Guinea and Nauru."

Dutton claimed an epidemic of self-harm on Manus was a result of refugees trying to "game" the system.

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But former Wentworth MP Kerryn Phelps, who lost her seat at the May election but was one of the masterminds behind the law's passage in February, has called on the parliament to reject any winding back of the medical transfer powers.

"There's no excuse to repeal that law," she told 10 daily.

"It’s a decision looking for an excuse."

MPs including Kerryn Phelps (back row, third from right) react after the medevac bill passes the House of Representatives in February. Photo: AAP

The medevac laws allow sick refugees and asylum seekers better access to vital medical care which is not available in Nauru or Manus Island, such as for serious heart problems.

As of May this year, just 40 people had been transferred to Australia under these laws, according to the Medical Evacuation Response Group, despite an average of 11 applications being made per day.

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The bill is unlikely to come up for debate until at least mid-October, when a report from a Senate inquiry committee is due to be tabled.

"We are confident that the inquiry will clearly demonstrate the benefits of medevac laws, and expose the lies Minister Dutton has told about them," Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim told 10 daily.

Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian journalist and refugee on Manus Island, told Reuters that "it will make the situation worse and definitely more people will die" if the law is amended or repealed.

Phelps said the medevac legislation was working as intended.

"It is working but that's not to say it's working as efficiently as it could be. We shouldn't be talking about repeal, but improving the systems and finding solutions for long term freedom and safety of the people," Phelps said.

She even took exception to the name of the bill, with its bracketed "repairing medical transfers" nomenclature.

"What needs to be repaired is Australia's international reputation," Phelps said.

"It's now up to Scott Morrison and [foreign minister] Marise Payne to show some leadership on this whole issue and start to find a solution to this whole issue of offshore processing and indefinite detention."

Kerryn Phelps wants the parliament to stand firm and oppose slashing the medevac bill. Photo: AAP

Phelps called Australia's current detention policy "absolutely chaotic".

"It's not an efficient plan, indefinite detention could mean forever. It's basically a life sentence," she said.

"It does need to be a priority. Enough is enough. We can no longer tolerate, as a nation, that people seeking asylum are detained indefinitely and don't have hope for the future. We cant continue that situation."

"It’s time to show our human credentials. Part of that is looking for not just a dumping ground, but for truly humane resettlement options for people with full rights of citizenship, health, education and right to work."

The Senate committee report is due by October 18.