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Allies keeping faith despite Medevac blow

  • 12 December 2019


It is Wednesday 4 December 2019. Close to a hundred Sydney-siders gather at the Sydney Catholic Archdiocese to reflect on Australia's offshore detention regime. Among us are Catholics, non-Catholics, priests, parishioners, CEOs, lawyers, doctors, and students.

Behrouz Boochani, Bishop Vincent Long, Fr Peter Smith and I (Carolina) will speak at today's forum. The latter three of us have returned from a solidarity and fact-finding visit to Port Moresby, where we met with the Catholic church, UN officials, civil society groups, and refugees and asylum seekers themselves.

We begin with an acknowledgement of country; an acknowledgement of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. 'It was land that was stolen; there is no treaty; it was never ceded. We wait with the rest of Australia for treaty to be white relationship with the First Nations people.'

We transition to a second announcement. The Medevac bill has been repealed in the Australian Senate. It less an acknowledgement, and more a reckoning with the reality that sick men and women seeking Australia's protection will now find it harder to obtain the medical treatment they desperately need.

In a matter of minutes, we canvas a long history of violence towards First Nations people and highlight the continuation of this legacy in our treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum. In the words of Fr Brian McCoy SJ, Provincial of the Australian Jesuits, it is the 'bookends of rejection' writ large.

Outside, a thick, toxic, Martian-red haze kisses the windows. An ode to the future perhaps. Most people are already aware of the Medevac repeal decision in the Senate. The room is heavy with silence.

Boochani joins the conversation from New Zealand. He is predictably and understandably despondent. 'For years I and others have been working to make people aware of what is happening in Manus Island and Nauru. But the government still has the power to do this (repeal Medevac). That is why I feel really saddened,' he says.


"And so we — grassroots and leadership alike — pick ourselves up for the post-Medevac struggle, knowing that the men and women in PNG and Nauru continue to have no choice, no respite, no cause for joy."


A cursory examination of the government's main justifications for Medevac's repeal highlights serious gaps in fact and logic. Medevac did not lead to a resumption in the people-smuggling trade. The government's argument that the bill's passage in February would generate an armada of new boats has not