Australian PM bows to pressure on medical transfers

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reacts during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, November 27, 2018. REUTERS

CANBERRA (Xinhua) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has caved under pressure to establish a medical review panel for transfers of asylum seekers from offshore detention.

Mr Morrison pledged yesterday to set up the independent panel only one week after he re-affirmed his opposition to the proposal.

“We’ve always had a medical transfer 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.

Mr 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.

Mr Morrison’s about-face on the panel has been described as an effort to appease Mr 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.

Mr Morrison has urged ALP leader Bill Shorten to reverse his support for Mr Phelps’ bill, a move that would guarantee its defeat.

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