AUSTRALIAN unions have applauded the community #LetThemStay alliance that forced the Turnbull government to back down on Sunday from sending baby Asha and her family back into detention on Nauru.
An alliance of health care professionals, unions, community organisations and ordinary Brisbane residents maintained a 24-hour vigil outside Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital for 10 days to force the government to change its mind.
Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary Ros McLennan said baby Asha’s family believed the government’s confirmed offer today of community detention in Australia would be a positive outcome for their family. The government’s backdown is testament to the stance taken by health care professionals on wanting a safe home environment for baby Asha after her discharge from hospital,’ she said.
‘If it wasn’t for this 10-day vigil outside the hospital, baby Asha and her family would have been on a plane back to the detention camp on Nauru. This is a win for baby Asha, her family, and the brave health care professionals who put their jobs on the line to ensure her safety,’ said Ms McLennan.
‘It’s also a great outcome for the union members who stood in solidarity with the health care professionals and the thousands of Queenslanders who have stood in support of this family and the campaign to #LetThemStay.
‘This action has changed the conversation around the rights of those seeking safety and security where they can have a decent future. Let’s remember that there are hundreds more asylum seekers in Australia who also face deportation back to the camps in Nauru. This alliance will be working together to find a fair outcome for those people too.’
She congratulated union and community members who heeded a late-afternoon call on Saturday to converge on the Hospital to prevent guards from removing and deporting baby Asha and her family.
‘This commitment reflects the public pledge that union representatives made last Monday to support the actions of the health care professionals at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital,’ Ms McLennan said.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has expressed its concerns about the future of baby Asha and her family and is calling on both the Turnbull government and the Opposition to urgently reverse the inhumane policy of keeping children and their families in indefinite detention.
Despite baby Asha being discharged from hospital into community detention, Federal Secretary Lee Thomas said the ANMF remains deeply concerned about the government’s intentions for the future of asylum seekers currently on shore.
In a morning radio interview, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton answered that ‘people will go back to Nauru’ after being asked about the baby’s future. ‘Although Minister Dutton has temporarily responded to the urgent calls of health professionals and the community, we are extremely worried that the Minister is planning to send baby Asha back to Nauru once the heat dies down,’ Ms Thomas said.
‘And our concerns extend beyond the safety and welfare of baby Asha and her family, our concerns are for the health of all asylum seekers and the harms caused by immigration detention.
‘We welcomed the opportunity to be part of the discussion at the AMA (Australian Medical Association)-convened Forum of health professionals held in Sydney yesterday, which called for a ‘moratorium’ on asylum seeker children being sent back to detention centres and the immediate release of all children from off-shore and on-shore detention into the community where they can be properly cared for.
‘The ANMF has a long history of campaigning against the detention of refugees and asylum seekers; at the ANMF’s Biennial National Conference last year, our members unanimously passed a series of resolutions condemning current immigration detention policy and last year’s Border Force Act, preventing nurses and doctors from speaking up about the deplorable conditions in detention centres.
‘So we did not hesitate to stand with the AMA on this issue. At the Forum, nurses and doctors described the appaling treatment of refugees and asylum seekers they had witnessed; unsanitary and dangerous conditions and lack of access to even basic health care.
‘They warned about the physical, mental and emotional horrors children are suffering in detention, a child as young as six trying to commit suicide, or a 15-year-old sewing their lips together. Places like Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island, are no places for children. In fact, detention on these islands is a form of abuse.
‘The Minister is on notice: he has a moral obligation to listen to the nurses, doctors and the other health professionals who continue to warn the government about the dangers of keeping infants and children locked-up. We will keep fighting for the release of children and their families in detention.’
The ANMF, with close to 250,000 members, is the professional and industrial voice for nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing in Australia. Last week the ANMF declared its support for nurses, doctors and medical staff at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane who steadfastly refused to allow baby Asha to be discharged and returned to Nauru.
Condemning the Federal Government’s treatment of asylum seekers in off-shore detention centres, ANMF Federal Secretary Lee Thomas demanded Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull directly intervene and ‘show some compassion’.
It stated: ‘As a Father and a Grandfather, Mr Turnbull must surely realise that Nauru is not a safe environment for a sick baby. That’s why he cannot stand back and allow authorities to put Asha’s health at risk by removing her from the safety of hospital care and sending her back to the horrific conditions asylum seekers are experiencing in detention.
‘As an advanced and civil society, Australia has a moral and legal obligation to treat every human being compassionately and with respect, courtesy and consideration.
‘The government’s policy of indefinite detention, especially of children, is morally unacceptable.
‘The ANMF fully supports the nurses at Lady Cilento whose first responsibility is to protect and promote the health and safety of their patients. They must be allowed to meet their mandatory Code of Ethics and Professional Practice Standards in the provision of proper, basic health care for their patients like Asha. Nurses should never be asked, or worse, coerced to compromise these standards.
‘Rest assured, as frontline health professionals these nurses won’t ignore their moral and legal obligations. The ANMF is now calling on Mr Turnbull to step-in and show some compassion for Asha.’
The ANMF joined other health professionals and community groups at an Australian Medical Association forum in Sydney on Sunday to condemn the government’s policy on off-shore detention.
Meanwhile, the ANMF says universal healthcare is again under threat after reports the Turnbull government is investigating changes to the Medicare payment system. The government just can’t keep its hands off Medicare,’ ANMF Assistant Federal Secretary, Annie Butler, said last week.
‘First it was the failed attempt at a $7 GP tax, then it was funding cuts to rebates and bulk-billing incentives and now they’re having another go – this time looking at potential privatisation of Medicare, PBS and Aged Care payments.
‘Mounting volumes of evidence demonstrate that privatisation of public services, especially in health, leads to increased inefficiency. Yet the government inexplicably persists on pursuing this path, describing it as “innovative”, “agile” and “responsive”.
‘But ANMF members disagree; the best way to be responsive to Australia’s health and ageing needs is to ensure fair and equal access to quality health and aged care for all, not to outsource these responsibilities to private, for-profit providers.
‘Outsourcing these activities not only threatens the efficiency of these services but much more concerning, the privacy of Australians, particularly our frail and vulnerable. We join the Community and Public Sector Union in raising concerns about protection of confidential medical and financial details of Medicare patients if this proposal proceeds.
‘In the lead-up to the Budget, the government must rule out changes to Medicare, including privatisation and outsourcing of payments, for the protection of all Australians.’