A Federal Court judge has raised concerns that the Australian Government is putting good relations with Nauru ahead of the health of refugees on the island.
In a ruling on Friday about a refugee known to the court as CEU 19, Judge Debra Mortimer noted the Australian Government had failed to comply with a court order on June 14 to “transfer the applicant to Australia for medical and psychiatric treatment, which he needed, and which was not available to him on Nauru”.
Legislation giving doctors more power to decide whether asylum seekers should come to Australia — known as the medevac bill — passed through Parliament in an historic defeat for the Government in February.
A Federal Court decision last month has reignited the political debate surrounding the laws.
The man, aged in his early 30s, has been on Nauru since 2013, and six months ago the Nauruan Government recognised him as a refugee.
The case has been brought to Federal Court in Melbourne by the Human Rights Law Centre.
The ruling referred to a doctor’s report that the man’s “disengagement from mental health services represents a marked deterioration in his condition”.
“The respondents are aware that the applicant’s condition is deteriorating, the risk to his health and safety is increasing, and that there are issues with the medication proposed to be given to him on Nauru,” Judge Mortimer wrote.
But the Australian Government — via the solicitor-general — has insisted that the decision on whether he can travel or not must be made by authorities in Nauru.
The judgment reveals a slow process on Nauru, where the Overseas Medical Referral Committee meets only every two weeks.
It was supposed to look at this case on June 27, according to the ruling, but the matter was deferred.
Court orders man to be transferred by next Friday
“[The Australian Government has] already made it abundantly clear they do not intend to take any further steps, if those steps could adversely affect the Commonwealth’s relationship with Nauru,” Judge Mortimer wrote in a 56-page judgement released on Friday.
“They have already made it clear they consider they have done all they are prepared to do. It is not that they have taken all the steps within their power, but they have done all they are prepared to do, taking the context of their relationship with Nauru into account.
“I note the respondents describe the court’s orders as the impediment, rather than the conduct of the Government of Nauru.
“Where the Nauruan Government controls the airport, the airline and the airspace, and has the attitude the evidence discloses, it would be futile to make mandatory orders against [the Australian Government] about specific steps.”
If the man has not been flown to Australia by Friday of next week, the court has asked for the Government to respond.
“I am conscious this leaves the applicant, as an individual, in a precarious position in more than one way, and I am acutely conscious of the extremity of his condition, on the evidence before the court,” Judge Mortimer wrote.
The court has asked the man be transferred by Friday, July 12.
If that has not happened, the Government must respond in detail as to why.
The Morrison Government has promised to repeal the medevac laws and needs just four crossbench votes in the Senate to do so.