Leading social justice advocates Maurice Blackburn Lawyers say proposed changes to the so-called Medevac Bill will threaten the health of refugees, whose medical needs will again be decided by bureaucrats rather than medical professionals and risks a return to costly legal battles to ensure refugees get the care they need.
Maurice Blackburn has acted pro-bono for asylum seekers for many years and intervened on behalf of more than 30 people – including babies as young as six months old - held in offshore detention to bring them to Australia for medical treatment.
The Medevac Bill was introduced in March and allowed for a transparent process through which off-shore detainees could be brought to Australia for medical treatment.
But proposed changes to the law threaten the health of asylum seekers and represent a return to the days of litigation to get people the medical care they need.
The firm has delivered a submission to Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee urging that amendments to Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019 be rejected.
Maurice Blackburn Principal Jennifer Kanis said the Bill would see a return to last-resort legal battles, brought in instances where people were seriously unwell and left with no other option but which also often left tax-payers footing large legal bills.
"In the past, legal proceedings were only initiated when we felt we had run out of other options. These legal proceedings were costly, time consuming, absorbed large amounts of court resources and required hundreds of hours of pro bono work from our lawyers, paralegals and support staff. Counsel routinely had to be engaged, often after hours, and they too acted on a pro bono basis," Ms Kanis said.
"Not only is it wrong to use a legal process to determine medical treatment, it is also incredibly inefficient, but that was the only option the Federal Government left for countless asylum seekers when they refused to provide urgent medical assistance for people in Australia's care.
"Such actions not only further delay the delivery of much-needed treatment for those concerned, but it also clogs up the Court system and places an adversarial process at the centre of what should be a discussion about health and medical need.
Ms Kanis said the proposed Bill would also mean medical decisions would once again be made by government officials rather than qualified doctors.
"It is hard to imagine that most Australians would proudly own a system where the decisions about who gets medical attention are not made by doctors – but are instead subject to a process governed by lawyers and unelected government officials.
"That is a situation that would be deemed utterly unacceptable by most Australians, and it is equally as unacceptable for those people who have been entrusted to Australia's care," she said.
A copy of Maurice Blackburn's submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is available here: