Medevac and the Politics of Fear

Medevac and the Politics of Fear

In line with the various desperate and dogmatic moves made by the federal government, rhetoric has shifted increasingly to the area of final resort. From the last preponderances on dealing with climate change under Malcolm Turnbull, to the current threatening hyperbole of Scott Morrison spreading fear of “paedophiles and rapists” coming in their “thousands” to our shores, the massive shift from a position of attempting to govern to just pure politicking is fully self-evident. Whereas Turnbull initially built his leadership on an attempted departure from the reactionary conservative politics of his predecessor — of abandoning the three-word slogans — the Morrison government has been defined by its return to the roots of modern Coalition politics. Cajoling and rabble-rousing over the issue of refugees is always a fraught area and prone to borderline racism, but it too often pays dividends for conservative politicians to be passed over by a desperate conservative government which lacks any real policies; which has to concoct crises for which they can contend to hold the anecdote.1 The dangerous consequence is the vile rhetoric and the justification of hate and prejudice which follows.

The Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill 2018 or “Medevac Bill,” is a relatively benign amendment to the Migration Act which allows for refugees being detained in offshore “processing facilities”2 to be treated for medical illnesses in Australia. What makes the legislation so benign (watered down) are the various caveats that have been attached: 1) seeking medical treatment in Australia is contained to those refugees who a) cannot be otherwise treated by the inadequate facilities in PNG or Nauru, b) are not marked as a national security threat by Home Affairs, c) are already being detained, meaning that the law does not apply to future arrivals, d) are subject to a multi-week process of objection and review if the Minister chooses to interfere on any grounds, and 2) the refugee remains, for all intents and purposes, under detention for the duration of their onshore medical treatment, meaning they will be handcuffed and/or imprisoned and segregated from the public as would be a criminal.

In spite of the massively watered-down nature of the legislation, which was itself a prerequisite to attain the support of the more right-leaning independent members of the House of Representatives, the government has had to react by way of open warfare. The defeat — any defeat — on the floor of the house is a major political blunder for any government. It was secured, at all costs, by Labor for the hoped-for political dividends that would be repaid by having the government on the back-foot.3 The result has not been the calling of an early election, nor even the humane treatment of refugees, but rather a more vitriolic rhetoric from the government as it ramps up the dog whistle. Layered in alleged bleeding-heartedness for those who have drowned in transit, is a deep seated racism at its core that the government hopes the low-education and low-information voters who constitute the hard-swinging section of the electorate will hear and respond to with fear and votes for the government. The obfuscation of this nasty racism by a proclamation of supposed humanity for “preventing drownings at sea” serves as the sweet-tasting veneer needed by the rest of the more educated swinging voters in order to make the hardline anti-refugee policies of the government palatable and even justifiable.

This, notwithstanding the fact that the drownings at sea are in fact encouraged by current border security arrangements. Towing unseaworthy vessels back out into the open ocean, refusing entry to Australia via safer means of transport, and actively buying up or destroying seaworthy vessels, are all aspects of a policy that has never in fact been predicated on the supposed good-will of preventing drownings. It has always been about subtly hinting at the public that they are safely protected from the fear-inducing other; the brown-skinned and non-English-speaking desparates who maliciously await their opportunity to displace the white working class and recolonise Australia as a Sharia haven. In truth, the fear of displacement and recolonisation is a fear based on a mis-truth spread with the aim of distracting the general public from those whom they should truly fear: the wealthy and powerful elites who readily abandon any morality and brutalise and imprison the weak and infirm just to secure their own prosperity and the poverty of others. More dangerous to Australians than the possibility of desperate human beings being given some humanity, dignity, and the opportunity for a new life, is the desperate dogma of a dying government and the politics of fear which it uses to divide and destroy the lives of those detained on remote tropical islands and those who dare to question the basis of the at-its-core racist and inhumane border security policies.


  1. The only alternatives being to either develop policies to address real issues, or to admit self-defeat and resign. ↩︎

  2. This is the offical term for these places. However, if you have no alternative and are compelled to the confines of these under-resourced and over-crowded tropical camps, you cease to define the facility as a processing centre and instead refer to it as what it has become — a prison. ↩︎

  3. It would have been a tough debate internally for Labor. They recognise any issues around refugees to be an Achilles heel for them; but the potential consequences of a monumental legislative defeat for the government including greater instability and a potentially earlier election, are just too good to pass up, especially whilst they remain ahead in the polls and can take risks. ↩︎