300 refugees preparing for transfer
UP TO 300 asylum seekers are reportedly ready with medical advice to allow their transfer to Australia following the passing of new medevac laws, amid fears the changes could spark an influx of boats.
According to The Australian, the government has received advice that up to 300 refugees and asylum seekers in Nauru and Manus Island had obtained medical recommendations in anticipation of the changes.
The bill that was passed by parliament yesterday, will allow refugees and asylum seekers already on Nauru and Manus Island to ask for a transfer to Australia if two doctors recommend it.
Federal sources have also reportedly told 9News that up to 14,000 asylum seekers in Indonesia could attempt the dangerous journey to Australia after the new laws were passed.
Opposition immigration and border protection spokesman Shayne Neumann was asked on 7.30 last night whether security agencies had advised Labor the medevac bill would increase boat traffic to Australia.
Mr Neumann confirmed Labor took a briefing with the security agencies but said he wouldn't reveal the classified information, unlike the government.
"We treat those briefings confidentially with respect," he said.
But he said Labor changed its position and strengthened the bill as a result of the advice, but appears not to have consulted security agencies again after making the changes.
7.30 host Leigh Sales wasn't satisfied saying there was a key point that needed to be clarified.
"Either they warned you that this bill could increase boat arrivals and you acted in defiance to that, or they didn't warn you of that, in which case the government's lying about that advice and using the national security agencies for political gain - so which is it?" she said.
Mr Neumann responded that the government was lying about "a whole range of things".
"The government's lying repeatedly about Labor's position on border protection and they are the marketing tool currently for people smugglers," he said.
"It's a disgrace the way the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs are actually encouraging people smugglers."
Sales asked whether the new law would set a legal precedent that would allow future asylum seekers to argue they should be afforded the same rights.
"I won't speculate what lawyers in the future might argue," Mr Neumann said. "I can tell you what's happening right now.
"There are 900 people who have been brought here from Manus and Nauru by this government for medical and other reasons. That has not resulted in Operation Sovereign Borders collapsing. It has not restarted the people smuggling trade and this legislation will not do so. The only way that will happen is if this government encourages it to happen."
Yesterday Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced he would reopen Christmas Island and ramp up border security patrols due to concerns the changes would restart the people-smuggling trade and trigger an influx of asylum seeker boats.
Boat arrivals have dropped dramatically since the government began turning back boats from Australia's borders and some asylum seekers told the Sydney Morning Herald this was a more effective deterrent than putting people in detention centres.
But asylum seekers have still continued to try and make the journey, with the Guardian reporting that at least 10 alleged attempts to transport almost 300 people to Australia by boat had been blocked at international ports in the 14 months to November 2018.
Last year the first boat to reach Australia's shores in four years landed in far north Queensland, although 17 Vietnamese asylum seekers were later found and taken to Christmas Island to have their claims processed.
Mr Morrison denied his rhetoric played into the hands of people smugglers.
"My job now is to ensure that the boats don't come," he said.
"I'm standing between people smugglers and bringing a boat to Australia."
The new fast-tracked only apply to asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru, a fact that the prime minister was repeatedly asked to say but he refused.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten sought to send his own message to would-be asylum seekers.
"I just say to people trying to put out the welcome mat for people smugglers, the medevac legislation applies for people who are already there, it does not apply to anyone new," he told reporters.
"So if you think that by buying a ticket on an unsafe boat, paying a people smuggler, a criminal syndicate, you'll get a better deal to come to Australia, you're wrong."
The new laws require two doctors to recommended a medical evacuation for an asylum seeker.
The home affairs minister can reject the transfer for medical reasons but his decision may be reviewed by a medical panel, which can recommend it goes ahead.
The minister could reject it again on medical or national security grounds if the person has a substantial criminal record or poses a threat to the Australian community.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said yesterday the government would not be able to stop a refugee facing sex abuse charges, and another one charged with indecently assaulting a child, from entering Australia under the new laws.
Mr Porter said the new laws only allowed the minister to refuse entry if someone had already been sentenced, not if they were only facing charges.
Mr Morrison has pledged to reverse the laws if the coalition is re-elected at the next federal election expected in mid-May.
The Coalition did not have the support to block the legislation in the House of Representatives, the first time a government has lost a vote on proposed laws in the house since 1941.
It was then passed by the Senate yesterday.
- with AAP