Cabinet minister Simon Birmingham insists asylum seekers transferred to Christmas Island for medical treatment will receive adequate care.
Authorities on Christmas Island, where the government plans to send sick people from Manus Island and Nauru, say there are barely enough health facilities to cater for locals, let alone hundreds of asylum seekers with a wide variety of conditions.
“The government believes that we can provide all of the medical support required on Christmas Island,” Senator Birmingham told Sky News on Sunday.
He accused Labor and the Greens of damaging Australia’s border protection regime by teaming up to pass laws making it easier for asylum seekers to get medical evacuation, against the government’s will.
“This is about trying to ensure we maintain a strong protection ring around Australia in terms of our borders as we possibly can,” Senator Birmingham said.
But Labor frontbencher Tony Burke said there were questions about the standard of healthcare facilities on Christmas Island, off Western Australia, where the government is reopening a detention centre.
“The government has to answer why it is that standards of healthcare that are not available on Nauru and that the people who live on Christmas Island say are not available on Christmas Island, would somehow be available there,” Mr Burke told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.
The government has warned that under the new laws, sick asylum seekers won’t be able to be sent back to offshore processing when they recover.
Mr Burke said the coalition could have tried to amend the bill in parliament if it was worried returning people would be a problem.
“The government has one intention here which is to try to string out and create a crisis intermittently every now and then on this issue to try to stoke a bit of fear,” he said.
The senior Labor MP said the government had made the claim based on legal advice which it refuses to release.