With The Medevac Repeal, Our Government Wears Its Cruelty As A Badge Of Honour

Australia's offshore detention regime has been a dark, foul and bloody chapter in our country's history.

It was designed with secrecy as hallmarks. They were not bugs in the system, they were features.

It was by design that people were exiled to Manus Island and Nauru, out of sight of the Australian people, out of sight of the Australian media and out of sight of the world's media.

Journalists were denied visas, and people like me were deported for daring to bear witness.

That same secrecy has allowed for murder, alleged rapes and sexual assault of children, untold suffering and people's lives being destroyed.

Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati was murdered in 2014 by two security guards inside Australia's detention centre on Manus Island.

Shamefully, secrecy delivered all of those things.

And the end of medevac itself is now shrouded in the same, shameful secrecy.

The medevac laws offered the merest glimpse of hope for people who had been exiled and neglected by this government.

It ensured that people who were sick could get the treatment that doctors said they needed.

It took a huge public campaign and creative parliamentary tactics just to ensure a modicum of humanity was introduced into our offshore detention regime.

Tragically, medevac became necessary to save lives.

Hamid Kehazaei died of a treatable leg infection in 2014 because of the inaction of this government.

Department of Immigration officials, working under then-Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, took far too long to accept doctors’ pleadings that he be brought urgently to Australia for treatment.

Eleven other people have died in this government's care while they were in offshore detention.

Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Kehazaei died after a treatable leg infection turned septic. Documents show his medevac transfer to Australia to receive life-saving medical care was delayed by officials at the Department of Immigration.

This government fought to keep asylum seekers including children locked up on Nauru, many of whom were suicidal.

In 2017 and 2018, it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs challenging asylum seekers' and refugees' urgent medical transfer requests in court, and has long vowed that asylum seekers will not be resettled on Australian shores.

It was only a massive public campaign that released these children from that exile last year.

There has also been, in my opinion,  a huge campaign of deception by this government, and some so-called journalists, about offshore detention.

We have been fed complete bull**it about the standard of care available to refugees.

The Department had to reach a settlement with Save the Children workers after dishonest claims they were coaching children into making claims of abuse.

After two independent, government-commissioned reports cleared those accused of any misconduct, the Department released a statement admitting it never provided the employees "detailed reasons for [their] removal" and "regrets any hurt and embarrassment caused".

At the time, Scott Morrison said of the accused workers, "[They] are employed to do a job, not to be political activists. Headaching, false claims and worse -- allegedly coaching self-harm and using children in protests is also completely unacceptable, whatever their political views or whatever their agendas."

Such rubbish, for which the Prime Minister was never really held to account.

Twelve people have died in this government's care while they were in offshore detention. (Image: AAP)

When members of the Papua New Guinea military stormed the detention centre in 2017 with machine guns, injuring nine people, Peter Dutton’s department tried to tell Australians that only a few rounds had been fired and that no one was hurt.

It was only when those claims were put to a senior department bureaucrat who was sworn to tell the truth at a Senate estimates hearing that the record was corrected.

More recently, private medical information was leaked to select journalists in what I believe was an effort to undermine medevac.

In mid November, scandalous headlines circulated about an asylum seeker who was flown to Australia for "genital reconstructive surgery" after he attempted a "DIY penis enlargement" by injecting himself with palm oil.

But the report was dismissed as "pure propaganda" and an astounding breach of privacy by former MP Dr Kerryn Phelps.

Senator Stirling Griff said the report was "devoid of facts", calling it "click-bait", and said the asylum seeker was actually being treated for complications arising from surgery on his wrist.

The disputed report attacked a person who had no capacity to respond.

Medevac placed crucial decisions about medical care where they ought to be in a civilised society, which is in the hands of doctors.

Tent accommodation at Australia's offshore detention centre in Nauru, 2012. (Image: AAP)

Without medevac, the transfer of desperately ill and sick people who have been in Australia's offshore detention regime for coming on to seven years now -- the overwhelmingly majority of whom have significant and serious physical and/or mental health problems -- will ultimately be determined by the minister.

The repeal of medevac is yet another indictment on a government whose demonstrably cruel off-shore detention policy has been subject to mounting international condemnation.

Last year, the UN body that focuses on arbitrary detention said Australia breached multiple international human rights laws in its detention of migrants Edris Cheragi, William Yekrop, Ghasem Hamedani and Ahmad Shalikhan.

It also cited "the numerous findings by the Human Rights Committee" that Australia's mandatory immigration detention policy was in breach of article 9 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which declares "everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention".

In its 2017 Special Rapporteur report, the UN Human Rights Council recommended Australia: "Quickly close down the regional processing centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru and terminate the offshore processing policy, in order to remedy the systemic human rights violations that this policy creates".

Meanwhile, the Australian Human Rights Commission recently reported that some of Australia's policies "significantly limit the human rights" of asylum seekers whose applications have faced prolonged delays, "including measures that have led to financial hardship, deteriorating mental health, a heightened risk of refoulement and poorer settlement outcomes.

"Some measures have also fallen short of Australia's obligations to protect families and the best interests of children," the report continued, concluding that the limitations of asylum seekers' human rights were not "necessary, reasonable and proportionate" or "effective in achieving the aim of preventing people smuggling and loss of life at sea".

The Commission urged the Australian government to adopt its slew of recommendations to ensure its treatment of asylum seekers "reflects our international human rights obligations".

But Minister Dutton and Prime Minister Morrison have worn their cruelty as a badge of honour -- and I truly hope that they and others are one day held to account in the International Criminal Court for how they have broken people.

But it is crucial now that we do not lose hope, because there are still hundreds of people in exile.

Because while the loss of medevac is disappointing for Australians with compassion, it is devastating for the men and women still on Manus Island and Nauru.

We simply have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and redouble our efforts to end this dark and bloody chapter.

Medevac, though it is gone, showed what is possible when people make insistent demands of their government.

Minister Dutton and Prime Minister Morrison have worn their cruelty as a badge of honour. (Image: AAP)

Despite the deception of this government, medevac was introduced and passed through both the Senate and the House of Representatives against the government’s will.

A fragile coalition of Greens, cross-benchers and even the Labor Party worked together to deliver this legislation.

While in place, medevac ensured that 135 people received medical treatment in Australia. These are lives that could have been at risk.

So we move on to the next fight, which is ensuring that every single person is given the freedom and safety they have been seeking for years.

The public mood on offshore detention reached a tipping point quite some time ago.

People want it to end.

When that happens, and I know in my heart that it will be soon, it will be despite the Liberal and Labor parties, and not because of them.