On Wednesday morning Independent cross-bench senator Jacqui Lambie showed her hand and voted with the government to repeal the Medevac legislation under which refugees on Manus Island or Nauru could be brought to Australia for medical treatment or assessment.
The vote to repeal the legislation introduced by Professor Kerryn Phelps passed with 37 votes to 35.
An emotional Jacqui Lambie voices her support for the medevac repeal legislation, which has just passed the Senate.
— ABC Politics (@politicsabc) December 4, 2019
Ahead of the vote inside the Senate chamber Lambie was visibly emotional as she explained she knew the decision would ‘disappoint’ many.
The most disappointing – and controversial – aspect of her decision is the fact she won’t explain why she gave the government her vote.
“I’m not being coy or silly when I say I genuinely can’t say what I proposed,” she said. “I know that’s frustrating to people and I accept that. When I say I can’t discuss it for national security concerns, I am being 100% honest with you.”
Shortly before Lambie explained she couldn’t explain what agreement had been reached the government leader in the Senate, Mathias Cormann, said ‘no deal’ has been done.
The Art of the (non) Deal pic.twitter.com/L5dxd1Iygq
— Alice Workman (@workmanalice) December 4, 2019
The Guardian’s Katharine Murphy described there being “fury” in the chamber.
Inside the Senate the Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, asked “Who on earth is misleading this parliament?
Someone is misleading the Senate about one of the most important pieces of legislation that has been before this parliament.”
In a press conference after the vote he went further.
“Someone’s lying here. Either senator Lambie is lying, or the government is lying. It’s very clear. According to Senator Lambie there was a proposal put to the government that was negotiated in secret, yet the government denies it.
It is cruel, it is heartless, it is absolutely an assault on the parliament.”
Amnesty International Australia issued a statement describing this as “shameful”.
#BREAKING #Medevac has been repealed by the Senate. A shameful and dark day in Parliament and a betrayal of our values and national conscience. To the refugees in PNG and Nauru, the @ASRC1 will be there for you, please don’t lost hope. We will keep fighting and standing with you
— Kon Karapanagiotidis (@Kon__K) December 4, 2019
It is. There are currently 471 people on Manus and Nauru in offshore processing to whom the Medevac legislation applied. Since the legislation was passed in March this year 179 people were transferred to Australia for medical treatment.
It was introduced as an emergency response to the well-documented and shameful deterioration of physical and mental health of refugees in off shore detention centres, for whom Australia is ultimately responsible. It offered a humane solution to an inhumane situation.
And despite the government’s misgivings, it was widely supported by Australians, with one poll indicating 62% of Australians supported it.
Now it has been repealed, the health and humanity of hundreds of refugees will suffer – and we don’t even know on what terms.