Weekly media wrap - 23 October 2019

An Afghan doctor who spent more than four years on Manus Island before being transferred to Australia for medical care died in Brisbane. Sayed Mirwais Rohani had been in Australia for approximately two years and is believed to have taken his own life. The 32-year-old’s death marks the thirteenth death of a person sent to Manus Island or Nauru by Australia under its offshore immigration policy. 

A Senate committee chaired by Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker recommended the medevac laws be repealed. The government-dominated committee found that the medevac legislation contained ‘significant flaws’. Despite this committee recommendation, support for the repeal remained split along party lines. The laws also continued to garner support from medical practitioners, with 11 of Australia’s leading medical colleges issuing a joint statement calling for the legislation to remain in place. Independent senator Jacqui Lambie now has the casting vote on the legislation. 

Despite long-running claims from Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Scott Morrison that the medevac legislation rendered the government powerless to block a transfer on security grounds, Dutton used his ministerial powers for the first time to override doctors’ recommendations to transfer an individual. In a parliamentary statement, Dutton said he refused the transfer because he believed it ‘would expose the Australian community to a serious risk of criminal conduct’. 

Greens Senator Nick McKim led a disallowance motion aimed to block the federal government’s expansion of its fast tracking of asylum seekers scheme. The processing scheme was put in place in 2015, and initially applied to asylum seekers who came by boat after 13 August 2012, who are not allowed to apply for permanent visas. The expansion of the scheme has meant that asylum seekers who applied before this date, but make subsequent temporary protection or safe haven visa applications, now also have their cases assessed through this pathway. Under the fast track process, asylum seekers have their cases resolved with the Immigration Assessment Authority, rather than going before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The motion is expected to go before the Senate in the next sitting week. 

The Guardian Australia reported on the transfer of a seriously mentally ill asylum seeker from Melbourne to Perth, where he spent almost a month held in detention and was admitted to hospital emergency or psychiatric departments six times. The young man’s ill health had been known to authorities and a Melbourne youth mental health facility was preparing to treat him at the time of the transfer. After more than three weeks in Western Australia he was flown back to Melbourne, where after several days he was admitted to the mental health facility that had initially offered to treat him. The transfer allegedly came without warning and without mental health consultation.

The Australian Government continued its refusal to release a report on refugee settlement, with Immigration Minister David Coleman rejecting an Order of the Senate to do so, claiming public interest immunity ‘as the documents referred to are under consideration of the Cabinet’.