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Medevac legislation: Adequate care for battling refugees

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Our Government is once again showing a lack of compassion for detained refugees in need of medical help (Screenshot via YouTube)

Now that the Medevac Bill has been set for repeal, Australia runs the risk of being seen by the world as an uncaring nation, writes Simone Anon.

I READ THE TERM “activist lawyer” this week and considered the implications of separating the term into two roles: being an activist and a lawyer and if it was possible to do this in practice. I thought about how we can – when we want to – advocate for the change we care about the most and how this impacts our day jobs.

The dual roles of activist and lawyer could occur when practising law or when practising medicine, I considered. There could be significant personal and professional risk involved with not being an activist and advocating for good legal or medical practice, even outside of business hours. Could a lawyer or doctor walk past a sick person in an emergency, or disregard the justice issues involved if a young person was being arrested in a brutal manner? Perhaps walking past without any intervention could be ethical in some situations, however, it is likely to depend largely on the circumstances. 

The place we spend our days, preferably doing what we love to do for work, has a big impact on our lives. It can be difficult to act independently from our daily jobs after hours. Perhaps, when it is warranted, choosing an issue we are passionate about where we can use our expertise to advocate in benevolent and patriotic ways after hours in limited and appropriate ways is, in fact, sensible and a reasonable way of contributing to society.

Dr Kerryn Phelps, a former MP, advocated for Medevac legislation informing her decisions with medical expertise. This provided diversity to Parliament and allowed her to use her specific expertise to benefit the Australian people. Perhaps there is a way which MP candidates can inform constituents whether their past expertise and career roles will impact their MP decisions in ways expected. It should be clear if career role expertise is part of what an MP can offer, in addition to political party affiliation and values, particularly about local electorate policy. Are there doctor, lawyer, artist, tradesperson, writer, parent, sibling, business and teacher MPs in Parliament?

There are 151 members of the House of Representatives. Perhaps there is diversity and it is not as obvious as it could be. I would need to do a lot of research to understand the expertise within Australia’s Parliament and whether it has resulted in the decisions I would expect. Perhaps the Committees would be a good place to start to consider these issues.

The Medevac legislation was passed into law earlier this year. The Morrison Government, which opposed the legislation, was defeated. The Refugee Advice and Casework Service tweeted recently that 96 refugees have been medically evacuated from offshore detention under the legislation, which enables doctors to provide medically informed recommendations to the Minister about whether existing refugees should be evacuated from Manus Island and Nauru. The Minister can then make a final decision if there are valid security issues.

During the week, however, the Morrison Government raised the repeal of the Medevac legislation and it was passed in the House of Representatives. It will now be moved to the Senate for a final vote and repeal endorsement in November this year.

The day the House of Representatives vote occurred, I asked myself a simple question which I thought was a worthy and independent test: if an enemy soldier was injured in war, at my feet, on a battlefield, what would I, as a soldier, be required to do in the circumstance? The answer can be provided by international humanitarian law, which sets rules to limit the impact of war on people and property. It is particularly relevant for the protection of vulnerable groups of people. The rules must be applied without any discrimination.

Specific information is provided by International Red Cross Committee resources. Mercy is required for the sick, wounded and shipwrecked. Medical and humanitarian personnel and facilities must be respected and protected in all circumstances unless medical facilities are being used for military purposes, such as a soldier meeting location. People who are bystanders must be respected, protected and treated humanely. They shall be provided with appropriate care regardless of whether they are captured combatants or other people. Warfare must be reasonable and involve no unnecessary suffering. Civilians must never be targeted.

So, I would need to take a secured, injured enemy soldier into custody and to a hospital for treatment by a qualified medical professional. If this is required in wartime and between enemy combatants, then Australia should be providing care for people fleeing persecution and indefinite detention should be ended. Yet the Medevac legislation now moves to the Senate for final repeal approval later this year. If Australia continues to deny the refugees on Manus Island and Nauru care and a safe future, it sends a strong message to the world that Australia cannot accept its role in the world as a capable and responsible global citizen.   

Simone Anon is a management consultant, lecturer and writer. She specialises in strategy, finance, business and innovation. 

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