Under the medevac law, which passed in February over the Coalition’s objections, an independent panel of expert medical professionals has the final say on all offshore detainees seeking mainland medical treatment, unless they pose a risk to national security or have a serious criminal conviction.
Any two licensed doctors can ask the panel to consider an offshore detainee’s case.
A group of eight organisations – including the Human Rights Law Centre, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, National Justice Project and Amnesty International – has developed a formal application process, involving more than 100 doctors, lawyers and case workers, to guide sick detainees through the medevac process.
The coalition, known as the Medical Evacuation Response Group, puts together the two formal recommendations from doctors along with legal and medical case work so the minister has all the information required to make a decision. It currently has roughly 50 medevac applications before it.
Activists argue Mr Dutton’s claim that “two doctors from Nimbin” could bring offshore detainees to Australia ignores the process set up by refugee and asylum-seeker support groups.
“I’m not aware of any other group or organisation that is undertaking medevac applications,” National Justice Project director George Newhouse, a former federal Labor candidate, said.
“Each application is a complex amalgam of social work, law and medical expertise. I can’t imagine that there are others out there that we don’t know of. “
Activists also denied Mr Dutton’s claim there were 250 cases being considered.
“The number is not 250 but rather 50, and this is a case of Peter Dutton again misleading the Australian public,” Asylum Seeker Resource Centre CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis said.
“He’s seriously just gone and made up a number again,” he said. “It’s beyond shameful the depths he will plummet to try and repeal medevac.”
Asked about the difference in claim numbers, a spokeswoman for Mr Dutton said the minister had nothing to add.
Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman, Kristina Keneally, said Mr Dutton was “crying wolf” on medevac.
“These statements have never been true, and now there is ample evidence on the public record that shows Mr Dutton is not speaking in facts, but scaremongering.”
Senator Keneally questioned whether the government would even introduce a repeal bill.
“[He] now claims he and the government will repeal the Medevac legislation but is yet to explain why or whether he really will move the bill.”
Mr Dutton’s eagerness to repeal the medevac legislation also risks souring the government’s “cordial relationship” with potential allies in Senate negotiations over income tax cuts – Centre Alliance senators Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick.
Following last month’s federal election, the government has the numbers to pass any medevac repeal bill through the lower house, but could be thwarted by crossbenchers in the Senate if Labor continues to support medevac.
Returning Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, who has emerged as the deciding vote on the medivac legislation, has remained quiet about her voting intentions since being officially declared elected last week.
Max is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.