Three Liberal MPs push Morrison to take child refugees and families off Nauru
17 October, 2018, 10:38 am
CANBERRA, 17 OCTOBER 2018 (THE GUARDIAN) – Three Australian Government MPs have urged Scott Morrison to remove children and their families from Nauru, declaring conditions in offshore detention have reached a tipping point.
Craig Laundy, Julia Banks and Russell Broadbent have appealed directly to Morrison to end what the Australian Medical Association has termed a “a humanitarian emergency requiring urgent intervention”.
Doctors, including Paul Bauert – a Darwin-based paediatrician who has been active in legal cases involving recent medical transfers from Nauru – have been in the parliament during the past sitting fortnight and also this week lobbying MPs in the hope of achieving a breakthrough.
Pressure is growing on both sides of the parliament. The Labor leader Bill Shorten, in an interview with Guardian Australia at the weekend, indicated the opposition was in talks with the AMA and other medical professionals about how to protect the welfare of children in offshore immigration detention.
“We think the medical advice should be dominant in decisions made,” Shorten said. “If a child needs medical attention and they can’t get it on Nauru, they should get it in Australia or a third-party country. We’re in discussions with the AMA about the best way.”
Labor’s left faction is also restive about the condition of children on Nauru after a spate of medical transfers to Australia, and concerns were raised at a meeting of factional convenors and union bosses a week ago as a precursor to debate at the party’s national conference.
There are about 100 children on Nauru, many of whom are in long-term detention. Doctors have appealed for a large cohort to be removed because of a marked deterioration in their physical and mental health, and the AMA wants a delegation of medical professionals to be given access to the island and to report publicly on the wellbeing of people in long-term detention.
The plight of asylum seekers has been a flashpoint in the Wentworth byelection – a contest that could cost the Morrison government its one-seat majority in the lower house.
A poll commissioned by the Refugee Council of Australia suggests a clear majority of voters in the electorate want children on Nauru to be brought to Australia for medical assessment, and 55% indicate they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who could deliver that outcome.
The high-profile independent Kerryn Phelps said at the weekend she was “ashamed” of Australia’s refugee policies and she urged like-minded voters in Wentworth to use the unique opportunity of the byelection to protest against Australia’s “inhumane” offshore detention regime.
A rally for refugees will also take place at federal parliament on Tuesday coordinated by Rural Australians for Refugees. Over the weekend the United Nations called on Australia to immediately evacuate its offshore detention centres to prevent an unfolding health crisis.
Morrison was asked in parliamentary question time on Monday by the Victorian independent Cathy McGowan what it would take for the government to act with “compassion, mercy and justice to accept of the resettlement from New Zealand and have these children and their families off Nauru by Christmas”.
The prime minister defended the level of medical care provided to asylum seekers on Nauru, saying there 65 were health professionals contracted by the Australian government to provide health services, including 33 mental health professionals.
He said the government would not transfer asylum seekers to New Zealand despite an offer from the government because “the advice of the government is people smugglers are marketing New Zealand as a destination, as a destination as a backdoor for Australia”.
Morrison said the government could only change its current stance if legislation was passed preventing “backdoor movement of people into Australia from New Zealand”.
He said Labor and the crossbench had refused to support the necessary legislation. The prime minister said until the backdoor was shut, removing people from Nauru would result in more ventures from people smugglers being launched, and asylum seekers drowning at sea.
“Having stopped the boats, we’re not going to start them again,” Morrison said.