Attorney-General Christian Porter claims a fatal flaw in the medevac legislation means a refugee who has been convicted but not sentenced for rape or murder could be sent to Australia.
The Morrison Government confirmed on Thursday that about 300 asylum seekers – close to a third of the total population on Manus Island – would apply for medical evacuations to Australia, and are likely to succeed.
Mr Porter’s claim of a hole in the contentious legislation came after a testy exchange on Sky News on Thursday morning involving Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.
Mr McCormack claimed a medical panel, as proposed under the medevac law, could allow serious criminals into Australia. However, the show’s hosts, Laura Jayes and Keiran Gilbert, repeatedly insisted the panel’s only grounds to challenge a rejected application would be medical.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) February 13, 2019
Appearing after Mr McCormack, Mr Porter revealed there was indeed a big hole in the legislation.
“At the very last moment, Labor put an amendment in that would give some discretion to the minister to stop people who are criminals, in effect, coming to Australia,’’ he said.
“Unfortunately, what they have tried to do doesn’t work. And the reason why is that they have used a definition in the Act of ‘substantial criminal record’ that relies on them actually having a sentence.
“A sentencing is the end of a very long tunnel. So the point is this … if someone has been charged with a very serious offence but is awaiting trial – or even that they’ve been convicted of the offence and are awaiting sentencing – there is no discretion for that government to refuse the transfer of that person.”
Mr Porter was also repeatedly challenged by Gilbert, this time about whether he should call people who had been convicted “rapists or murderers”, or whether he should call them alleged rapists.
“It’s not at all hypothetical or esoteric,” he said.
What we know is there are 300 people who have already got or are close to getting certification from two doctors.
“Now we are in a race against time to try to go through each of those 300 to determine whether or not there are charges pending, whether or not they are awaiting trial.”
Asked if any detainees faced criminal charges, Mr Porter said some did.
“There’s been reporting … of a potential transfer of a man on Manus Island charged with four counts of sexual penetration of a minor,” he said.
Mr Porter said the government did not have the numbers in Parliament to amend the medevac law.
“It’s beyond our power to change a law that we don’t have the numbers to change,” he said.
Earlier, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten went on the attack over the government’s “scare campaign” on the medevac law, accusing Prime Minister Scott Morrison of having only “slogans and fear” left.
“This country in 2019 is not the same nation as in 2001. I do not believe Australians want a government which governs by slogans and fear,” Mr Shorten said.
“Strong borders does not have come at the expense of humane treatment of people who have been in our care for half a decade or more.
“I totally repudiate the attacks of the government, seeking to whip up fear and hysteria. Seeking to lure people smugglers to entice people onto boats.”
Manager of opposition business Tony Burke said Labor was ready for the fight.
“We’ve been ready for an election for a long time. But what Scott Morrison’s done this week is tell untruths and tell lies and call them whatever you want,” he said.
“To make his case, he has had to tell the Australian people things that are not true about legislation that’s gone through the Parliament and I think that says it all about how sustainable that sort of campaign is.”