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26 Aug 2019

AMA President Dr Tony Bartone has told a Senate committee reviewing the Medevac laws that the Independent Health Advisory Panel (IHAP) assessing the health of asylum seekers is working well.

The Government is seeking to repeal Medevac, which currently gives doctors the say in whether refugees on Manus and Nauru should be brought to mainland Australia for medical treatment.

A repeal bill passed in the House of Representatives and is now under review in the Senate before it is voted on there later this year.

Then Committee heard evidence from a number of stakeholders.

In his evidence, Dr Bartone said it remained vital that doctors have independent access to asylum seekers.

“Asylum seekers and refugees experience particular risks from a range of health conditions and psychological disorders,” he told the inquiry.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and the physical effects of persecution and torture are common among asylum seekers and refugees, along with poorer physical health.”

Dr Bartone described the transfer process of sick refugees prior to the Medevac laws as “tortuous” and invariably involving long delays.

He said the review process under the Medevac laws was functioning well, albeit not perfect. Under the current law, IHAP members are not paid for their service.

“From all reports, I believe that the IHAP process is working well in that applications are being brought to it in an appropriate manner and an appropriate timeframe,” Dr Bartone told the hearing.

“All applications, I believe, that have been presented to the committee have been assessed and appropriately acted upon in due course.

“From our point of view, and from the information that we have … it is working as intended. All the doctors on IHAP have been performing under exceptionally difficult circumstances, have been executing their tasks in the most professional, the most ethical, and the most capable of manners. And I have nothing but respect for all the members of the IHAP committee.”

When asked what he considered a fair level of remuneration for doctors serving on IHAP, Dr Bartone replied that “zero” was not a fair level.

Professor Kerryn Phelps, a former AMA President and the former Federal Member for Wentworth, also gave evidence before the committee in a personal capacity. Professor Phelps spearheaded much of the campaign that resulted in the Medevac legislation passing in February.

She told the hearing that the Government’s repeal bill should be opposed in its entirety. Professor Phelps even took issue with the name of the bill – the Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019.

“What needs to be repaired is Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum,” she said.

“Not the bill that provides for humane and timely medical transfer of seriously ill people on Manus Island and Nauru.”

CHRIS JOHNSON


Published: 26 Aug 2019