House debates

Tuesday, 16 October 2018


Asylum Seekers

7:40 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia is overseeing a medical emergency, and it requires an emergency response. I am proud of the work that the Greens and many in the community have done over many years to call out the appalling way that Liberal and Labor have treated refugees. Even though it's too late for the people who have died under Australia's watch, who have been separated from their families under Australia's watch and who have been broken under Australia's watch, there are glimpses of progress. Today I stood with my crossbench colleagues to announce that we will co-sponsor a bill to get children and families off Nauru to receive urgent medical treatment in Australia. If the Labor Party shifted from their current position, which the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre today said fails every critical test, and finally stood up for what is right then this bill could pass the House.

We are reaching a tipping point. The thousands of doctors around Australia who signed an open letter calling on the government to take emergency action to remove children and families from Nauru have played a huge part in making this happen. These doctors collected signatures within their profession at a grassroots level with no media or formal support, and I'm proud that the organisers of that letter live within my electorate. At the time that I am speaking, 6,000 doctors have signed this letter. I understand that this represents five per cent of all registered doctors in Australia, an amazing grassroots effort.

When a doctor tells you there is an emergency, you should listen. But, shamefully, the Prime Minister's office yesterday refused to even accept the letter. It was sent by internal mail, and there has not yet been even a formal response. So tonight I would like to read into Hansard the open letter, and may this stand as a testament to what Liberal and Labor support for cruel offshore detention of adults and children has led to. It says:

Dear Prime Minister,

We call on you to transfer the asylum seeker and refugee children and their families off Nauru for medical care appropriate to their needs.

The medical situation is urgent for this vulnerable group of children. Medical experts, including doctors who have worked on Nauru, have spoken repeatedly about their concerns. They report widespread, significant deteriorations in physical and mental health. There are disturbing reports of young children attempting suicide by lethal means and withdrawing from their environment until they are almost comatose (increasingly called resignation syndrome). This is an extreme physical response to sustained psychological trauma, and is life threatening. A growing number have been transferred by order of the Australian Federal Court for treatment.

We are aware that there has been substantive investment by the Australian and Nauruan governments who provide health care on Nauru. We are aware that this includes provision of specialist mental health professionals including child psychiatrists. While we are grateful that these services continue to be extended, this will never bring resolution to these children's symptoms. The circumstances of an involuntary and indefinite stay on Nauru directly contributes to their deterioration in mental state, which is why extending services on the island can never be the solution.

We wish to state explicitly that our call to transfer should in no way be viewed as a negative reflection on Nauru's population, government or physical environment. The severe adverse physical and mental health effect of involuntary and indefinite stays have been widely reported around the world.

While we acknowledge the complexity of the situation, and that this in part results from a sincere desire to stop deaths at sea, we cannot accept that one policy necessitates harm to innocent children.

Our peak bodies have repeatedly offered to work with the government to provide independent oversight and expertise. This offer was repeated as part of the AMA President's letter that you received on September 19, 2018.

We ask that you reconsider.

We are deeply uneasy that expert medical recommendations are unheeded by our government. It is a dangerous precedent for other areas of great health need across our communities.

It falls within our mandate as doctors and medical students to comment on and advocate for those requiring care within our health system. We undergo years of rigorous training and ongoing oversight to provide the Australian community with excellent medical care. We believe that this care should be delivered without regard for race, age, gender, ability level, or location.

We call on you to show your commitment to the strong health care system we have in Australia, which we are the guardians of, by accepting the recommendations of many medical experts and bringing these children and families to Australia so their health care needs can be met adequately, and with appropriate clinical oversight.

I seek leave to table that document and all the signatures attached to it, because these are doctors who are calling out this government and the opposition for supporting a policy that is killing children.

Leave not granted.

I'm not surprised that the government doesn't want to hear from the doctors, but you are hearing from the Australian people that killing children does not justify any policy.