House debates

Monday, 22 October 2018


Migration Amendment (Kids Off Nauru) Bill 2018; Second Reading

10:25 am

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill is very straightforward. In essence, it requires that all children on Nauru be brought to Australia for medical treatment, accompanied by their families. It is co-sponsored by the member for Mayo and the member for Melbourne.

There is an urgent need for the parliament to deal with this bill because there is a humanitarian crisis on Nauru and the government is refusing to address it. Indeed, there are approximately 70 children on Nauru currently. The majority are in need of urgent medical attention. All of them are in need of at least urgent medical assessment.

I can think of no better example to illustrate this humanitarian disaster than what was described to me in an email I received just this morning from a doctor, who said: 'Last week, a refugee girl was medivaced to Australia from Nauru. Upon touching down on the tarmac, she was intubated and immediately transferred to the nearest ICU, where she is in kidney and liver failure, likely secondary to prolonged dehydration and starvation on Nauru. This little girl will quite possibly need dialysis and/or organ transplant down the track.' That is a shocking story. It was conveyed to me reliably by a medical doctor who has reason to know that what I just described is a fact.

In response to this humanitarian crisis on Nauru, the government has been insisting that all is well. But every time the government does insist that all is well, it is deliberately misleading the Australian community. And that is unforgivable. Yes, many in the public expect politicians to lie, but they don't expect politicians to lie about children's lives. For example, the government wants you to believe that this year they've brought many sick children to Australia, but the truth is that every one of them has been evacuated by order of the Federal Court or the threat of such court action. The government wants you to believe that any child who is recommended by doctors for evacuation is indeed being evacuated, but the truth is that, in many instances, the children removed by order of the Federal Court had previously been recommended by doctors for evacuation but those recommendations hadn't been acted on because they'd been blocked by Australian Border Force officers.

The government wants the community to believe that there are more than 60 medical personnel on Nauru to care for the sick children and other refugees and asylum seekers, but the truth is that there are only half that number at any one time. The truth is that the senior Australian medical officer has been kicked out of the country. And the truth is that the children are almost entirely left with a handful of health practitioners from other countries, some of whom would not be allowed to practice in Australia. Indeed, there is only one psychiatrist currently on Nauru, and that psychiatrist is from Cuba and speaks Spanish and only Spanish and there is no translator.

The government wants the community to believe that the government and Border Force can't possibly be aware of all of the sick children on Nauru because some are presenting to health services separately to the Australian contracted service provider. But the truth is that the only alternative is the small Nauru hospital, which is in constant communication with the Australian contractor. And the Australian contractor is, in fact, referring people to the Nauru hospital. The government wants the community to believe that people are getting adequate health care from the health service contractor. But the truth is they're sometimes being picked up by police cars instead of ambulances, sent to the Nauru hospital, given a Panadol and sent home. In some cases, parents are being arrested by the Nauruan authorities due to neglect of their children, when their children are mentally unwell and the parents are struggling with their own mental illness. There are even cases where adults who have tried to commit suicide on Nauru have been detained by police for committing an offence by trying to take their own life.

Moreover, the government wants the community to believe that bringing children to Australia will somehow be a signal to the people smugglers. But the truth is that it won't, because irregular immigration is obviously much more complex than that, which is why, when Prime Minister John Howard allowed the people rescued by the Tampa to go to New Zealand, that didn't involve the people smugglers. There was no run of boats as a result of that act of common sense and compassion by the Prime Minister at the time.

To be clear, I strongly believe that we should end all offshore processing for all people—adults and children. We should end mandatory detention. We should end boat tow-backs. We should get rid of temporary visas. Indeed, I've got another bill currently before the parliament which would do exactly that—a bill which has received no support from the Liberal Party, a bill which has received no support from the Labor Party. So, in the absence of any support by the major parties to shut down offshore processing and bring everyone to Australia, what I'm seeking to do here is to come up with something that can be supported by the government, that can be supported by the opposition. In fact, I struggle to believe that there would be anyone in this place that could genuinely be of the view that we should let the children stay on Nauru, suffering and dying, because that would be unconscionable.

I would hope that everyone in this place would understand and agree that you don't play games with children's lives. You don't use them as pawns in some political debate in this place. You don't use them as some sort of deterrent against people smugglers. You don't have a punitive arrangement like we obviously have, as much to punish people for daring to think they could flee for their lives and seek refuge in Australia. I want to emphasise: I want to shut the camps down. I want to bring all of those people to Australia—adults and children. But, until we can achieve that, let's at least show some common sense and compassion. Let's at least bring the 70-odd children who are currently on Nauru—all of them—to Australia for the urgent medical treatment they need, or at least the assessment they need and that is being recommended by doctors, and in fact, just recently, was strongly urged by some 6,000 doctors.

I refer to that child who has had organ failure, and that email I received just this morning. That is typical of what's going on in that hellhole, which I would liken to a gulag in the middle of the Pacific, near the equator, virtually on the equator. That's no way to treat children.

I urge the House to support this private member's bill. I urge the selection committee to bring it on urgently. And, if it won't be done with the numbers currently, I urge the new member for Wentworth, when she joins us, to join with us here in supporting this bill. In my remaining time, I will now invite the member for Mayo, who is the seconder of this bill, to offer a few comments.


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