Refugee advocates have spoken of the discrimination that has surrounded the Urgent Medical Treatment bill and urged Indi MP Cathy McGowan to make her stance clear ahead of her vote next week.
Ms McGowan has received hundreds of letters on the issue from her constituents, including from the Albury-Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council as early as September, but has not publicly stated which way she will vote on the bill.
AWECC and the Border branch of the Rural Australians for Refugees held a silent protest outside the MP’s office on Friday as a “last ditch” effort.
“This issue is a common sense issue because it’s about humanity and basic human rights,” said AWECC's Teju Chouhan.
“You are already vulnerable when you seek asylum … instead of being given that protection from their vulnerability, we are locking them up and then denying access to basic human rights like medical treatment.
“We are not asking more, we’re simply asking can we evacuate people who are vulnerable, who are sick.
“We want to Cathy to speak up… we want a clear stand on this particular issue.”
RAR secretary Dorothy Simmons said the waters had been muddied in discussions about the bill, which is opposed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“These are people that have been there two to three years, some of them five, and they have been shown to be refugees – their status is not in dispute,” she said.
“Regardless of your views on border protection or anything else, these are human beings in need of urgent medical treatment and I think it’s our humanitarian duty to provide that.”
On ABC’s Q&A this week, presenter Tony Jones questioned cross-benchers Julia Banks, Andrew Wilkie, Rebekha Sharkie and Kerryn Phelps on the issue.
“The politics of this is, it would almost be like a no-confidence vote in the Prime Minister Scott Morrison if he loses this, so it’s going to be absolutely critical what happens with the votes and Cathy McGowan’s is a key one – do any of you on this panel know what she is going to do?” he asked.
“I think she needs to speak for herself … she has a long track record of supporting the rights of refugees and I haven’t seen any indication that she has changed her mind,” Dr Phelps replied.
Further questioned by Jones if Ms McGowan had seemed receptive in discussing the bill, Dr Phelps replied “she’s supportive of refugees”.
“But she won’t show her hand until next week, I would think,” she added.
Emmanuel Uniting and Anglican Church Wodonga pastor Berlin Guerrero joined the protest on Friday morning as a representative of Philippines the Australia Solidarity Association Albury-Wodonga.
“I am from a refugee background, from the Philippines,” he said.
“We are here to extend our solidarity with you, even as we continue to advocate for refugee and migrants’ rights.
“It takes a lot of courageous and compassion to advocate for refugees and this is what we want to say to Cathy – if your name starts with the letter ‘C’ you should have courage and compassion.”