Medevac in the balance as Parliament meets for final sittings of the year


Senator Lambie said she would also meet Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to discuss his desire to repeal the medevac regime by the end of this week.

“Anything that’s got to do with humanity is always really, really difficult to have to take a vote on, so that’s why I’m taking a little bit longer than I know that many people would have hoped,” Senator Lambie said on Sunday.

“Hopefully, over the next few days, between myself and Pete Dutton we can get this sorted and certainly get a vote taken.”

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Asked if she was leaning towards repealing medevac, Senator Lambie signalled her desire for a deal that amended the system without giving the government the full repeal it wanted.

“I think what you’ll find with medevac is it may not look like it does today,” she said.

While more than 150 refugees and asylum seekers have come to Australia under the medevac laws, the government claims the regime weakens border protection because it limits the discretion of the minister to rule on each case.

Mr Dutton can draw on national security factors to reject an individual medevac transfer, but cannot rely on previous rules that gave him full discretion to turn away an individual over questions of character or criminal history.

I think what you’ll find with medevac is it may not look like it does today.

Senator Jacqui Lambie

The government has waited several weeks for Senator Lambie to decide, but wants to put the issue to the test.

Senator Lambie is the crucial vote on the bill, given the government already has support from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and conservative independent Cory Bernardi, who will join the sittings this fortnight before leaving Parliament.

With four of the six crossbenchers on its side, the government would be able to overcome Labor, the Greens and the two Centre Alliance crossbenchers, Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff.

Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter is close to passing the “ensuring integrity” laws that create a series of demerit points for union conduct leading to disqualification and deregistration.

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The Greens intend to complicate the Senate vote by moving an amendment to delay the start of the government workplace laws until a national integrity commission is established, but this does not have Senator Lambie’s support.

A vote on trade is also likely early this week, with Trade Minister Simon Birmingham seeking approval for technical changes that deliver free-trade agreements with Indonesia, Hong Kong and Peru.

While the union movement has urged Labor to reject the trade bills and the free-trade agreements, the changes appear likely to go ahead with bipartisan support, after a parliamentary committee recommended approval last month.

A clash is looming on religious freedom, however, with the government considering the introduction of its religious discrimination bill next week so it could be referred to a parliamentary inquiry over the summer.

While the move would reveal the details of the bill after months of consultation, the changes would not be voted on until next year.

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