'Medevac' supporters take to the streets

Protests against repealing "medevac" laws are planned for major cities and Parliament House.
Protests against repealing "medevac" laws are planned for major cities and Parliament House.

As negotiations on unwinding Australia's controversial refugee "medevac" laws approach crunch time in federal parliament, their supporters are set to rally in major cities.

The laws were rammed through parliament by Labor and the crossbench early this year, before the May election.

They gave doctors a much greater say in the evacuation of sick asylum seekers from offshore detention to the mainland for medical treatment.

The Morrison government has set its sights on repealing the laws.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton argues they weren't about medical attention, but providing a "back door way" for people to enter Australia.

Refugee Action Collective spokesperson Chris Breen says the minister can refuse transfers if he disagrees with a clinical decision, but hasn't.

"He knows people have come for treatment of illnesses such as TB, kidney disease and serious mental health conditions," he said.

Refugee supporters will rally in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane on Saturday to make their support for the legislation known.

Federal Labor MP Josh Burns and Greens MP Adam Bandt will address the Melbourne event, along with a refugee formerly on Nauru who has to fight for access to medical treatment in court, Tibebu Zeleke.

A bill to repeal the medevac process is not listed on the program for the latest sitting of the Senate next week.

But Finance Minister Mathias Cormann is locked in negotiations with crucial swing voter and independent senator Jacqui Lambie to secure her support.

"We will be moving that legislation as soon as we practically can," Senator Cormann told Sky News on Friday.

So far, about 140 refugees and asylum seekers have come to Australia for medical treatment under the regime.

None of those accepted under the medevac laws have been returned to offshore detention.

Despite the laws stating detainees are only in the country for a temporary purpose, Mr Dutton says he is powerless to stop them staying.

Mr Dutton also rejected a medical transfer on security grounds in October.

Mr Breen said Manus Island and Nauru were "medical black holes" before the medevac laws were passed, with bureaucrats and politicians overriding the decisions of doctors.

"We can't return to that situation. Health care is a right for all."

Rural and religious Australians from across the country also plan to hold an overnight vigil at Parliament House in Canberra on Sunday, hoping to sway senators arriving on Monday.

Australian Associated Press