Canberra, Feb 4: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has caved under pressure to establish a medical review panel for transfers of asylum seekers from offshore detention.
Morrison pledged on Monday to set up the independent panel only one week after he re-affirmed his opposition to the proposal. "We've always had a medical transfers process, but this is about giving Australians greater assurance that people in offshore processing get the right support," he told News Corp Australia.
The review panel is a key component of legislation set to be introduced to the parliament by independent Member of Parliament (MP) Kerryn Phelps, which would give doctors the power to bring critically ill asylum seekers to Australia for treatment.
Under the current system, the Department of Home Affairs has the power to block medical transfers regardless of the advice of medical experts.
Phelps' bill, which has the support of the opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP), would force medical transfers within 24 hours of two "treating doctors" informing the department that a person needed medical or psychiatric care.
Morrison's about-face on the panel has been described as an effort to appease Phelps' supporters and avoid a historic parliamentary loss on the bill, which has enough support to be passed through parliament despite the government's opposition.
Having allowed the panel to go ahead, the prime minister urged Bill Shorten, leader of the ALP, to reverse his support for Phelps' bill, a move that would guarantee its defeat.
"I appreciate that Australians are seeking greater assurance about the healthcare that is being made available to those who continue to live in Papua New Guinea and Nauru," he wrote in a letter delivered on Monday.
"The reason that the (bill) will end offshore processing is simply that (it) takes the final decision of who comes to Australia out of the hands of the elected government of this country
"The amendments permit individuals on Nauru and Manus to gain entry to Australia on the say-so of any two doctors in this country."(UNI)