Vinnies urges MPs to back medical transfers bill for offshore refugees

11 February 2018

The St Vincent de Paul Society National Council has added its voice to a chorus of community organisations and church groups, who are calling on Federal MPs to back the forthcoming Urgent Medical Treatment Bill.

This Bill is set to be voted on in the House of Representatives on Tuesday 12th February and would see timely and life-saving medical care provided to refugees and asylum seekers currently languishing in offshore detention.

The Bill states that, in the event of a refugee or asylum seeker requiring urgent medical assistance, at least two treating doctors can recommend their temporary transfer to Australia. Should the Minister refuse the recommendation of the treating doctors, the case would be reviewed by an expert medical panel. The Minister is bound by the decision of this Panel but at any point can block a transfer due to national security concerns.

The Society, which has an on-the-ground presence on Manus Island, has consistently raised concerns about the lack of adequate medical facilities and care on Manus Island and the need for urgent action to avert further harm and loss of life. Twelve lives have already been lost since the offshore processing regime was resurrected in 2013, and many others have complex and severe mental and physical health problems that remain untreated. The medical facilities on Manus Island and Nauru are grossly inadequate for dealing with this crisis - a crisis that has only escalated since the Australian Government made drastic cuts to essential support services.

Recognising the urgency of this issue, the Society has added its name to a joint statement from community organisations, calling on all MPs to back the bill and restore some integrity and compassion to Australia's treatment of those seeking asylum.

Joint Statement Text

We, the undersigned organisations, are urgently calling on all Members of Parliament in the House of Representatives to support the Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018 (“The Bill”) and in particular, the ‘Urgent Medical Treatment’ amendment moved and accepted in the Senate which pertains to the temporary transfer of offshore refugee patients requiring further medical treatment to Australia at the behest of Australian medical professionals.

We note that 12 people have died in offshore detention over the last 5 years. Many of these deaths relate to untreated illnesses, with an Australian coroner finding that at least one young refugee’s death was directly related to a failure to transfer this young man to adequate tertiary medical care in Australia. The medical situation continues to be urgent for those ill men, women, and young adults who arrived in offshore detention as children more than 5 years ago.

Medical experts, including doctors who have worked on Nauru and Manus Island, have spoken repeatedly about their concerns regarding a medical transfer system that is not working, and political interference in their clinical recommendations for transfer. These doctors report widespread, significant deterioration in physical and mental health of those held offshore. A growing number of refugees have had to be transferred to Australia by order of the Australian Federal Court for treatment after doctors’ recommendations for transfer went unheeded.

Qualified medical professionals, not politicians nor bureaucrats, should be responsible for determining whether their patients require treatment. This reflects Australia’s healthcare system, and how it should operate to anyone in our care, including those detained in offshore detention for more than 5 years.

The Bill institutes a clear, transparent, enforceable and timely process to provide a medical solution to a medical problem. The requirement for the process to be initiated on the recommendation of at least two treating doctors, with the option of case review by an expert medical panel should the Minister refuse the recommendation of the treating doctors, provides for a rigorous transfer process.

The Bill represents an important compromise across the political spectrum, it does not require the permanent resettlement of any refugee in Australia, nor does it change the system of offshore detention – but it will save lives, and ensure the Australian Government does not continue withholding treatment from critically ill individuals.

We urge all Members of Parliament to support this Bill to save lives and prevent unnecessary suffering.


Albury-Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council
All Saints Anglican Church Mitcham Victoria
Amnesty International Australia
Anglican Mothers Union Gippsland Diocese
Anglican Social Responsibilities Commission
ARAN – Australian Refugee Action Network
Armidale Students Promoting International Rights and Equality (ASPIRE)
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
Asylum Seekers Centre NSW
Australia Cares
Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce
Australian Council for International Development
Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS)
Australian Education Union (AEU)
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
Ballina Region for Refugees
Barnabas Charity Outreach
Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group Inc
Bridge for Asylum Seekers
Brigidine Sisters
Brisbane Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support (BRASS) Network
Brotherhood of St Laurence
Buddies Refugee Support Group
Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum
Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Brisbane
Catholic Religious Australia
Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace
CBM Australia
Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University
Christian Brothers Oceania
Combined Refugee Action Group
Common Grace
Communify Qld
Community Links Welfare
Discalced Carmelite Nuns
Las Casas Dominican Centre for Justice, Peace & Care of Creation
Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood
Free the Children Nauru
Friends of The Earth Australia
Future Super
Gannawarra Refugee Support Group
Geelong Inter-Church Social Justice Network
Global Health Awareness Western Sydney
Global Mission Partners
Good Samaritan Refugee and Asylum Seeker Network
Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children
Holy Cross Congregation of Dominican Sisters Adelaide
Holy Spirit Sisters
Hope Uniting Church
Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy
Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea
International Mindfulness Collective
Iranian Bushwalkers
Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia
Jesuit Social Services
Kingsford Church of Christ
Labor for Refugees
Little Company of Mary Region of the Southern Cross
Loreto Sisters
LUSH Cosmetics
Marist Sisters
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers
Melbourne Catholic Migrant & Refugee Office
Mona Vale Veterinary Hospital
Morris Care & Advice Pharmacy
National Council of Churches in Australia
New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association
Noosa Welcomes Refugees
North Bellingen Medical Centre
North Shore Temple Emanuel
NSW Teachers Federation
Operation Hope Australia
Oxfam Australia
Pax Christi Victoria
People Just Like Us
Pitt Street Uniting Church
Plan International Australia
Presentation Society of Australia and Papua New Guinea
Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Association of Australasia
Rainbow Refugee Action
RAR Southern Highlands
Redlands for Refugees
Refugee Action Campaign (Canberra)
Refugee Action Collective (Queensland)
Refugee Action Collective (Victoria)
Refugee Action Collective (Eurobodalla)
Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS)
Refugee Advocacy Network
Refugee and Immigration Legal Service
Refugee Council of Australia
Refugee Rights Action Network WA
Rotaract Club of Barwon
Rural Australians for Refugees
Save the Children Australia
Servants of the Blessed Sacrament
Sisters of Mercy Parramatta
Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions
Sisters of Saint Joseph
Sisters of the Good Samaritan
Sisters of the Good Shepherd
Specialist Health Service
St Cuthbert’s Anglican Church, Darlington (WA)
St Vincent de Paul Society National Council
Student Voice Network
Sunshine Coast Refugee Action Network
Tasmanian Refugee Rights Action group
Teachers for Refugees
TEAR Australia
The Body Shop Australia
The Household Agency
The Humanitarian Group
Toronto Uniting Church
Townsville Multicultural Support Group Inc.
Uniting Church in Australia National Assembly
Uniting Church in Australia, Synod (NSW & ACT)
Vic Uni-Inner West Stronger Together
Welcoming Australia
Wesley Asylum Seeker Welcome Place
Westgate Refugee Support
Westsiders with Refugees
Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance (WACA)
World Vision Australia
World Wellness Group
Yass Rural Australians for Refugees