Monday 29 February 2016

Australian Federal Election 2016: thought for the day

Turnbull’s belief that removing negative gearing will “smash the residential housing market” is one echoed with glee by the treasurer, Scott Morrision.

Both base their argument on the belief that removing negative gearing for established residences will mean – in Turnbull’s words – taking out “all of the investors. So there will only be home buyers, people who are buying it as a residence”.

As a consequence Turnbull and Morrison argue that house prices will fall.

It’s a pretty silly argument that doesn’t hold up under close examination. Even worse, it also suggests a pretty dismal assessment of the state of Australia’s housing market.

Are we to assume that the prime minister and the treasurer believe the value of Australian homes is reliant only on the ability of investors to use the system to avoid paying tax?

If so, that’s a pretty scary thought. It suggests that not only do the two top people in our government think the Australian housing market is some sort of tax-driven Ponzi scheme, but that they also want to make sure it stays that way. 

[Greg Jericho writing in The Guardian, 22 February 2016]

Australian Federal Election 2016: play up, play up and play the game.......

And this particular game is Help Yourselves & Help Your Mates before even thinking of the unpaid workers:

An ambitious sports media venture backed by an elite of Australian politics, corporate and sport figures, including Liberal heavyweights Malcolm Turnbull and Nick Greiner, has collapsed and faces wind-up action by disgruntled former employees.

The brainchild of entrepreneurs, Melbourne-based advertising executive George Tomeski and Sydney's Luke Bunbury, PlayUp was spruiked in Australia and internationally as a world first in mobile-based, sport-focused, social media.

It attracted tens of millions from a star-studded band of investors including Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull and son Alex, former Telstra chairman Bob Mansfield, pub and pokie king Bruce Mathieson and ex-test cricketers Adam Gilchrist and Steve Waugh.

Founded in 2006 as a possible online gambling app, PlayUp appeared to be in serious trouble by 2014 after burning through $75 million raised from investors between 2007 and 2011, including from BRW Rich listers Allan Myers, QC, John Higgins and funds manager David Paradice.

Documents lodged with the Victorian Supreme Court reveal that six former employees are seeking to wind up Revo, claiming they're owed $500,000 in unpaid wages and superannuation.

One of the company's shareholders, Ben Smith has joined the action, claiming $100,000 in the name of his personal superannuation fund.
The legal stoush is likely to resurrect questions about the company's finances and what, exactly, PlayUp offered to lure such a glitterati of backers.

Sources said Alex Turnbull negotiated a secured debt status with PlayUp management in 2014, when former NSW premier Nick Greiner was chairman. Mr Turnbull is understood to be poised to strike a deal this week to sell his debt on to another party, in a transaction that will see him lose money on his original investment.

But the Turnbull family has still extracted more money from their investment than just about all of the high-profile shareholders in PlayUp.
Malcolm Turnbull was a PlayUp shareholder, buying $1 million worth of shares in PlayUp shareholder Revo Nominees in mid-2012. But in August 2013, he sold his stake after it was revealed in a Fairfax Media story that questioned whether his shares in a media company might be a conflict of interest given his role as communications minister.

Company records examined by Fairfax Media show Revo Nominees paid $921,478 when Turnbull & Co shares were transferred back to the shareholder vehicle in November 2013. At least a chunk of that is understood to have gone to the Turnbulls.

Sunday 28 February 2016

Is Rupert Murdoch about to gobble up ten Queensland and two NSW regional daily newspapers?

It probably comes as no surprise to readers of APN News & Media’s The Daily Examiner and Coastal Views that newspapers in the Northern Rivers are battling and, Rupert Murdoch may be poised to swallow whole  APN’s print stable Australian Regional Media.

This print stable includes 12 daily newspapers and 70 community & specialist titles.

If News Corp does purchase ARM that would leave only three Northern Rivers newspapers, including the Clarence Valley Independent not in Murdoch’s control.

Echo NetDaily, 26 February 2016:

The owner of The Northern Star and other local newspapers including Byron Shire News, Tweed Daily News, Lismore Echo and Ballina Advocate has put them on the market, saying they are dragging the company down.

They join more than 100 regional newspapers and websites in Queensland and northern NSW that are are up for sale as their owner says it no longer wants to pour money into them.
APN News & Media says it is in talks about the divestment of its Australian Regional Media (ARM) business, which reaches an audience of more than 1.5 million between Mackay and Coffs Harbour.

ARM’s earnings dropped 27 per cent in calendar 2015, despite millions in cost cuts and growth in digital subscriptions beginning to replace the declining newspaper audience.

‘Further investment in this business is now inconsistent with APN’s long term ambitions and we have commenced the process to divest the business,’ APN chief executive Ciaran Davis said.

According to industry publication TheNewspaperWorks APN was asked after its results presentation, whether News Corp Australia was the only potential purchaser of the mastheads and how APN would ensure it was not disadvantaged in the sales process by News’ investment in the company. (News holds a 15 per cent strategic stake in APN.)

‘In response APN said it was talking to a number of parties, and it was too early for a price guide,’ TheNewspaperWorks reported.

Byron Shire Echo and Echonetdaily general manager Simon Haslam said, ‘This just reinforces the point that Rupert Murdoch is calling the shots at APN.’

Mr Haslam added, ‘On behalf of The Echo, I’m happy to offer to run free classifieds for APN to help them in their search for an alternative purchaser, so Byron shire is not further exposed to News Ltd, as Murdoch’s ownership increases to 100 per cent of the Byron News and Northern Star.’…..

Two Malcolms that the Liberal-Nationals Coalition not so secretly despise

The then Leader of the Opposition and MP for Wannon John Malcolm Fraser resoundingly won government for the Liberal-Nationals Coalition in 1975 and became the twenty-second Prime Minister of Australia.

At the time the general public considered him little more than a haughty silvertail and, by the time he retired from politics in 1983 even he was aware that his party considered his time in office as a wasted opportunity.

Thirty-three years later and the same Liberal Party supplied another perceived silvertail, MP for Wentworth Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, as Australia’s twenty-ninth prime minister.

This time the Liberal-Nationals Coalition desperately want their second Malcolm to waste the opportunity to drive new policy and instead urge him to pursue the far-right ideological agenda of his predecessor in office, Tony Abbott.

That Malcolm Mark Two is as equally despised as Malcolm Mark One can be inferred by this gif which is doing the rounds at the moment on the NSW North Coast………

Friday 26 February 2016

The Hating 2016

Sometime the level of debate on Australian social media makes the head hurt and the heart burn.........

Facebook bile:

Anonymized Facebook posts via Twitter

The facts:

ABC News 23 February 2016

Counting Dead Women in Australia 2016

Destroy the Joint, 20 February 2016

Thursday 25 February 2016

WA Parliament votes the state back into colonial era

United Nations press release, 15 February 2016:

UN human rights experts urge Western Australia’s Parliament not to pass proposed anti-protest law

GENEVA (15 February 2016) – Three United Nations human rights experts have urged the State Parliament of Western Australia not to adopt new legislation which would result in criminalising lawful protests and silencing environmentalists and human rights defenders.

Members of the regional parliament have indicated that the Bill aims at preventing protestors from locking themselves onto equipment, trees, and other objects with innovative methods in order to frustrate or delay development sites. The anti-protest Bill is scheduled to be debated on Tuesday 16 February. 

“If the Bill passes, it would go against Australia’s international obligations under international human rights law, including the rights to freedom of opinion and expression as well as peaceful assembly and association,” said the UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression, David Kaye, on freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, and on human rights defenders, Michel Forst. 
“The Bill would criminalise a wide range of legitimate conduct by creating criminal offenses for the acts of physically preventing a lawful activity and possessing an object for the purpose of preventing a lawful activity,” they explained. “For example, peaceful civil disobedience and any non-violent direct action could be characterized as ‘physically preventing a lawful activity.’”

The experts noted that, under the proposed legislation, an offense would carry serious penalties of imprisonment of one year and a fine of 12,000 Australian dollars (US $8,540). If the offense is committed in circumstances of aggravation, the penalty for preventing a lawful activity could be as high as imprisonment for two years and a fine of 24,000 Australian dollars (US 

“The proposed legislation will have the chilling effect of silencing dissenters and punishing expression protected by international human rights law. Instead of having a necessary legitimate aim, the Bill’s offense provisions disproportionately criminalize legitimate protest actions,” Mr. Kaye warned.

Special Rapporteur Kiai stressed that the passage of the Bill would grant police disproportionate and unnecessary powers to restrict lawful protests, primarily against environmental activists trying to raise awareness of key environmental issues. “It discourages legitimate protest activity and instead, prioritizes business and government resource interests over the democratic rights of individuals,” he noted.

“Human rights defenders have a legitimate right to promote and protect all human rights, including the right to a healthy environment, regardless of whether their peaceful activities are seen by some as frustrating development projects or are costlier for the police to address,” Mr. Forst underscored.

“Environmentalists and land rights defenders are already among the ones most at risk, and the State is obligated to protect and support them,” said the Special Rapporteur who will carry out his first official visit to Australia later this year.

In September 2014, the three UN human rights experts had urged the Tasmanian Government to withdraw a similar anti-protest bill, which also targets environmental protestors. The experts remain concerned over the implementation of the Tasmanian law.

Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. 

Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

The CRIMINAL CODE AMENDMENT (PREVENTION OF LAWFUL ACTIVITY) BILL 2015 went to its Third Reading  in the West Australian Legislative Council on 18 February 2016 and was returned to the Legislative Assembly to become law.

If West Australian voters would like to know who to blame for this situation, they can begin with the following upper house politicians:

Hon Martin Aldridge, Hon Kate Doust, Hon Nigel Hallett, Hon Helen Morton, Hon Ken Baston, Hon Phil Edman, Hon Alyssa Hayden, Hon Simon O’Brien, Hon Liz Behjat, Hon Sue Ellery, Hon Col Holt, Hon Martin Pritchard, Hon Jacqui Boydell, Hon Brian Ellis, Hon Peter Katsambanis, Hon Sally Talbot, Hon Paul Brown, Hon Donna Faragher, Hon Mark Lewis, Hon Ken Travers, Hon Jim Chown, Hon Adele Farina, Hon Rick Mazza, Hon Samantha Rowe (Teller), Hon Alanna Clohesy, Hon Nick Goiran, Hon Robyn McSweeney, Hon Peter Collier, Hon Dave Grills, Hon Michael Mischin.

Nationals MP for Clarence Chris Gulaptis blots his copybook with voters - yet again

Facebook exposes the nasty side of Nationals MP for Clarence, Chris Gulaptis:

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Just because Australia's Attorney-General doesn't like the lyrics.....

It appears that Australian Attorney-General, Senator George Henry Brandis QC, is upset by certain topical lyrics written by singer-songwriter Tim Minchin.

I felt it only right that I upset that rather pompous alumnus of the private Catholic Villanova College even more by posting Tim’s lyrics here.


[Verse 1]
It's a lovely day in 
I'm kicking back, thinking of you
I hear that you've been poorly
I am sorry that you're feeling blue

I know what it's like when you feel a little shitty
You just want to 
curl up and have an itty-bitty doona day
But a lot of people here really miss ya, Georgie
They really think you oughta just get on a plane
(Just get on a plane)
We all just want you to...

[Chorus 1]
Come home, Cardinal Pell
I know you're not feeling well
And being crook ain't much fun
Even so, we think you should come

Home, Cardinal Pell 
Come down from your citadel
It's just the right thing to do
We have a right to know what you knew

[Verse 2] 
Couldn't you see what was under your nose, Georgie
Back in '73 when you were living with Gerry?
Is it true that you knew but you chose to ignore
Or did you actively try to keep it buried?

And years later, when survivors, despite their shame and their fear
Stood up to tell their stories, 
you spent year after year
Working hard to protect the church's assets

I mean, with all due respect, dude, I think you're scum!
And I reckon you should...

[Chorus 2]
Come home, Cardinal Pell
(Cardinal Pell)
I know you're not feeling well
Perhaps you just need some sun
It's lovely here, you should come

Home, you pompous buffoon
(Pompous buffoon)
And I suggest do it soon
I hear the tolling of the bell
And it has a Pellian knell

I want to be transparent here, George, I'm not the greatest fan of your religion
I personally believe that those who cover up abuse should go to prison
But your ethical hypocrisy, your intellectual 
vacuity, and your arrogance don't bother me as much
As the fact that you have turned out to be such a goddamn coward

You're a coward, Georgie
(You're a coward, George) 
Come and face the music, Georgie
(Face the music, George)
You owe it to the victims, Georgie
(You owe it, George)
Come and face the music, the music 
Hallelujah, hallelujah
If the Lord God omnipotent reigneth

He would take one look at you and say:
(One look at you and say)

[Chorus 3]
"Go home, Cardinal Pell
I've got a nice spot in hell
With your name on it and so
I suggest you toughen up and go

"Home, Cardinal Pell
I'm sure they'll make you feel wel-
Come at the pub in Ballarat
They just want a beer and a chat"

Come home, Cardinal Pell
(Cardinal Pell)
I know you're scared, Georgie-Poo
(Come home)
They have a right to know what you knew

Your time is running out to atone, Georgie
I think the Lord is calling ya home, Georgie
Perhaps he could forgive even you
If you just let them know what you knew

Oh, Cardinal Pell
My lawyer just rang me to tell
Me this song
Could get me in legal trouble

Oh well, Cardinal Pell
If you don't feel compelled
To come home by
A sense of moral duty
Perhaps you will come home and frickin' sue me

Readers will note there in one "shitty", a single "goddamn" and a lone "frickin" - terms which would barely register on the offensive expletives scale.

Which makes this The Guardian headline on 12 February 2016 above an article by Monica Tan, Tim Minchin asks George Pell to 'come home' in expletive-filled new song, all the more puzzling.

Bets are a yawn when it comes to the Australian federal election in 2016?

This 18 to 21 February 2016 Newspoll had little effect on lacklustre betting on the 2016 Australian federal election:

The Two-Party Preferred percentages obviously made little impression on Aussie's who like a bet or three - after desultory interest late last year they all went back to sleep for the duration:

Which party will win the Australian federal election in 2016?

One suspects that the general public sees the outcome of the forthcoming general election as a foregone conclusion.

It would appear that Sportsbet patrons expect the Turnbull Government to go full term before calling the election, that the Coalition will retain government at the polling booth and, Malcolm Turnbull will continue leading the Liberal Party for years to come.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Australian Medical Association spoke out loudly to government when its President catalogued the horror that is Manus & Nauru

21 Feb 2016



Welcome. I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

There are times, in any nation, where the medical profession must act in the interests not only of our patients as individuals, or for patients in a health system, but it must act in the national interest.

Doctors, along with nurses, lawyers and others, must lead a debate on an issue of national importance.

I believe that is the case when it comes to the issue of children in detention and Australia’s provision of health care to asylum seekers.

Each of our presenters today has demonstrated clearly why there is a need for the medical profession, and others, to speak up and to advocate to remove children from detention.

I want to thank each of you not only for your presentations here today, but also for your candour, your conviction, and your courage in taking the approach that you have.

I am proud to be the President of the AMA. When I see the commitment that so many of you have shown by attending today it makes me even more so.

We should all be proud of the stand that our colleagues have taken.

Doctors at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and, of course, more recently at the Lady Cilento Hospital in Brisbane have refused to release children from hospital because they would be returned to detention.

Some commentators have seen this as a form of political protest. But as a doctor working in a paediatric hospital, who deals with the consequences of physical abuse, I know that there is no reasonable other option for these doctors and nurses to take.

There is an absolute ethical, not to mention moral, obligation to that patient who is in their care. The obligation is to not release a child back into a situation where they have reason to believe that there is a risk of harm, whether that be physical or psychological.

Let me say that it is not an issue of denying someone else a bed for elective procedure. The obligation of that hospital, of those doctors, and nurses, is to the patient that is under their care.

To those doctors and nurses, and indeed, the State Governments and hospital administrators who have supported them, let me say you have our support.

Last night I became aware that lawyers for Baby Asha had been refused access to her mother. This communication blackout usually precedes a transfer.

It was reported that guards were to forcibly remove Baby Asha from Lady Cilento Hospital against medical advice.

I was shocked. I made a number of calls. Bill Shorten did call Prime Minister Turnbull to seek reassurance that this would not happen.

As I said last night, security guards entering a hospital to forcibly remove a patient would be unprecedented in this country.

It a line that cannot be crossed. If crossed, there is no return.

Although there was reassurance nothing would happen last night, it seems that the reprieve may be temporary.

You have to ask why the Department of Immigration and Border Protection is pulling apart the moral fabric of this country!

So, is there is a reason to believe that a child would be at risk? Well, that question has already been answered.

The 2014 Report of the Human Rights Commission: The Forgotten Children clearly documents the harms that children experience as a result of mandatory detention.

On that note, I acknowledge the presence here today of Professor Gillian Triggs and acknowledge the work that the Commission has done to highlight these issues.

The Report documents that the rates of mental health disorders were significantly higher compared with children in the Australian community. These findings included cases of self-harm by young children.

Children being detained on Nauru are suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological, and developmental distress.

The results of this national inquiry could not be more clear.

As noted in the Report, both former and current Ministers at that time agreed that holding children for prolonged periods in detention does not deter people smugglers.
I acknowledge that the then Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, did reduce the number of children in detention significantly.

But today there are still 67 children on Nauru.

What is just as concerning is the plight of 80 other children, including 37 babies who, as a result of the recent High Court decision, are inexplicably about to be sent back to Nauru.

And inexplicable it is. In fact, the Human Rights Commission Report noted that there was no rational explanation for the prolonged detention of children.

The fact of the matter is that prolonged detention of children is a State-sanctioned form of child abuse - and we call for it to stop.

Immigration has enriched our society. That includes those who have come by boat, those who have fled wars and persecution.

I know of one young boy who fled his country by boat - stuffed on an overloaded boat, he became unwell and almost died.

The boat was seized and he was returned to his homeland, where he and his family were jailed. They fled again by boat, reaching Australia, where he and his family this time were sponsored by a local family.

This is a story that is similar to any of those children who are in detention now. The difference here is that he was Vietnamese and it was the 1970s. He and his family were embraced by Australia.

He grew up to become an anaesthetist. I am proud to have had him as my anaesthetist for 10 years.

There are many other examples of the contribution that asylum seekers have made to Australian society.

In the theatre next to mine at Norwest Hospital is a man who started his journey as a young Iraqi doctor working in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein regime.

He fled Iraq when his senior doctor was shot dead in the car park by soldiers for refusing to cut the ears off deserting soldiers.

He fled to Malaysia and then Indonesia, and came here by boat. He spent months in Curtin detention Centre, where he was treated appallingly.

When he was finally released, he completed his orthopaedic training and joined our defence force.

He is an expert in osseous integration, and has given many British soldiers, who are double amputees as a result of military injuries, the ability to walk again.

In fact, when Prince Harry was here recently, he made a special visit to him and to see his work. I am proud to call him a colleague and friend.

I am aware of many others who are among the brightest and the best of our profession who did not start life with privilege, but fled in fear of their lives seeking asylum in Australia, where they found safety and made a home. 

They have enriched our country, and we should be proud to have them as Australian citizens.

Detention is not just harmful to children.

The same psychological consequences occur for adults, particularly when detention is prolonged and seemingly indefinite.

When people are detained for whatever reason, they have a right to the provision of an appropriate level of health care.

The AMA’s policy is clear.

It is the AMA position that all asylum seekers and refugees under Australian care should have access to the same level of health care as Australian citizens.

In addition, it should be ensured that their special needs, including their cultural, linguistic, and health-related needs, are addressed.

In October last year, at its 66th Annual Assembly in Moscow, the World Medical Association issued a Resolution on the Global Refugee Crisis. 

It emphasised the damage to one’s health imposed by becoming a refugee, and called on nations to play their part in the immediate care and support of these vulnerable people.

You have heard today from our esteemed colleagues how, from their direct experience and observations, Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers could not be considered acceptable.

The defence of this situation, even from the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, has been that there are places in Australia where Indigenous people do not have access to the same level of services.

Actually, having returned from remote communities in Central Australia yesterday, that may be true for Indigenous people living in remote communities.

Even so, it is not a defence; if anything it is an indictment on the health care provided to our own Indigenous people.

As President of the AMA, I have been approached by concerned doctors and advocates about particular cases.

The case of an otherwise healthy 24-year old Iranian asylum seeker who died of a treatable condition stands out.

This man presented with early sepsis while in detention on Manus Island. He had a temperature of over 40C, he was tachycardic, and hypotensive.

He was started on antibiotics. He developed cellulitis and, over the next 24 hours, another antibiotic was instituted - but his symptoms did not settle.

It was decided that the patient should be transferred for inpatient care at Port Moresby the following day on a commercial flight. He was to be escorted by a doctor who was travelling on the same flight.

The following morning, at 10.30am, the request was made for approval for the transfer, and he was booked on the flight. At 3.30pm, there was still no approval and the transfer was therefore cancelled.

That night, the patient deteriorated and developed septic shock with adult respiratory distress syndrome. He was saturating at only 77 per cent.

An emergency evacuation was arranged through International SOS. He was transferred from Manus Island to PNG Pacific Private via air ambulance.

He was not intubated for reasons that are unclear.

The patient was saturating at 60 per cent, and was unconscious on arrival at the ED at Pacific Private in Port Moresby.

There was apparently no warning to the hospital that the patient was arriving, and a further hour and half passed before the patient was intubated and resuscitated.

By this time, the patient was brain dead. He was transferred to the Mater Hospital in Brisbane where this was confirmed, and treatment was later withdrawn.

The death was referred to the Queensland Coroner. A report was also prepared by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. This latter report has not been released to the public.

The fact is that this young man should never have died. He should have been treated. If he had had access to appropriate treatment in a timely manner, he would still be alive today.

However, the overall attitude may be summed up by the following report from the Sydney Morning Herald, which quotes a leaked report by a service provider on the Island:

"It is likely some Iranian transferee will spread malicious rumours about GDD059's death to further their own personal agendas, as well as to exploit unrest to further their own agendas and standings amongst their countrymen."

When you have people in isolated tropical locations under these conditions, people will have significant health problems.

It is not possible to provide the level of care that Australian citizens would expect when you are on an island as isolated and remote as Manus Island or Nauru.

Keeping people in such locations when they are sick places these people at risk of death.

More recently, I was asked to look into three different cases about which doctors and advocates had raised concerns.

A 70-year old who had been an inpatient in PNG Pacific Private in Port Moresby for 7 months was returned to Manus Island detention facility where he then waited 20 days for a doctor’s appointment.

His diagnosis was described as being a heart condition with high blood pressure.

His legs, of which I was provided pictures by an advocate, were grossly swollen and oedematous.

He was only able to stand or walk for a few minutes. It turns out that he has TB pericarditis, and he was obviously in gross cardiac failure.

A young man who complained of headaches was investigated and found to have a small pituitary tumour on an MRI performed in Port Moresby.

He has not had a full panel of blood tests as anyone in Australia would normally have. His eyesight reportedly deteriorated, and he complained of more severe headaches.

He was transferred back to Manus Island where he was seen by an endocrinologist by teleconference, who prescribed a two-year course of medication. An eye review by an optometrist was to be conducted within six months.

We were last told that he had not received any medication, because the doctors were unsure if he wanted to take it. Therefore, it had not been ordered for the island.

Finally, another man appears to have deteriorating mental health with PTSD and depression. He was witness to a brutal murder, for which two former detention facility workers have been charged.

He remains in the same environment where the event occurred that started his PTSD. 

Is not removing him from such an environment the most logical and basic step that could be taken to assist this man?

It is not appropriate to keep these patients on Manus Island or Nauru. They need proper investigation and treatment. They need health care.

I have written to Minister Dutton in relation to these cases, and I have met with Dr John Brayley, who is the Chief Medical Officer and Surgeon General of the Australian Border Force.

Dr Brayley was unaware of most of the cases we raised with him.

And, consistent with the culture of secrecy that I have described, at every step of the process there were barriers and obstacles imposed that made transparent health care almost impossible.

First, these asylum seekers needed to provide me with a signed and scanned consent form, but the Department couldn’t tell me if they have access to scanners on Manus Island.

Their own health records were eventually provided to the detainees after some delays, but they were on computer discs. The Department couldn’t tell me if they had access to the appropriate IT to read them.

When I was eventually provided with these heath records, they were also on a disc. Only it was password protected - and the Department didn’t supply the password.

As a result of this process and our intervention, I am pleased to say that Dr Brayley recommend urgent transfer of the man with TB pericarditis to the mainland.

I want to say that I believe Dr Brayley is a good man. He has done great work in his previous roles, but he is clearly in an impossible situation.

It took a week of emails and calls, but this sick man was eventually transferred. I don’t know where to, or what the outcomes are, but I am told that he has been removed from Manus Island. 

The concerns about the other patients remain, but this process also highlighted two other major concerns.

First, it took the President of the AMA to write to the Minister for Immigration, arrange an appointment with the Chief Medical Officer, and provide health records and photographic evidence, before action was taken. That is not open, transparent, and appropriate health care.

It is also absolutely wrong that the decision on transferring this asylum seeker for urgent treatment was not made by medical practitioners, but by IHMS.

It was not the ABF’s Chief Medical Officer who made the decision. He could only make the recommendation.

So, when the Government and the Minister say asylum seekers enjoy the same level of health care as ordinary Australians, that is simply not true.

In Australia, when a doctor makes a clinical recommendation, including medical transfers involving significant distances, a request does not need to be made to the Department of Health for clearance.

Recently, the Department of Immigration told the Senate Estimates hearing that they decide who is transferred, not the Chief Medical Officer, or the treating physician.
Doctors should not only exercise their professional judgment in the care and treatment of their patients, but they must be able to speak out about unjust, unethical maltreatment of asylum seekers without persecution or prosecution.

Rather than a culture of clinical independence and transparency, we have the Border Force Act – a piece of legislation that was passed with the support of both the Coalition and Labor, but opposed by the Greens.

The AMA is rightly concerned about the restrictions contained in the Border Force Act. 

Despite the Government’s claims that the intent of the Border Force Act is not to prevent doctors from reporting publicly on conditions in detention and regional processing facilities, the AMA has received legal advice that does not reassure us.

There are provisions in the Border Force Act that are unnecessary and shouldn’t apply to healthcare workers.

The legislation must be amended to make it absolutely clear that it does not apply to doctors or nurses working in detention facilities.

It is imperative that medical practitioners working with asylum seekers and refugees put their patients’ health needs first. And, to do this, we must have professional autonomy and clinical independence without undue outside pressure.

Apart from the Border Force Act, in December 2013, the Abbott Government disbanded the Immigration Health Advisory Group.

This group, known as IHAG, consisted of independent doctors who were able to access and assess the medical care of asylum seekers in detention. It was transparent, and provided advice to Government.

There has been no replacement. Instead, when this was raised with the previous Minister, we were flatly told that internal advice was available, and there would be no such group established.

The AMA has continued to call for the establishment of an independent panel of doctors and other health professionals who can provide independent advice to Parliament, and who can report in a transparent manner on health-related issues.

At the end of the day, if Minister Dutton and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection believe that the care and treatment of asylum seekers is at a level that is appropriate, then why should they oppose this level of transparency?

Let me say that the game is up when the Nauruan Government cancels tourist visas for Australians and New Zealanders because they might see something that could be reported.

Refugee and asylum seeker policy is complex. It is also highly political. Both the Coalition and the ALP know that elections have been won and lost on this issue.

A narrative that creates fear among the public by confusing the plight of asylum seekers with the issues of security and terrorism has helped to reinforce support for the Government’s policy.

The dehumanisation of the asylum seekers by Minister Dutton and others referring to these people as ‘illegals’, combined with cloaking them in secrecy in offshore processing, has made it more difficult for the Australian public to identify with these people.

The predominance of mental health conditions among the problems of detainees, including among children, does not seem to convey the same sense of seriousness as it might if the problems were physical.

A question has to be asked about the apparent pervasive indifference to mental health conditions despite the promotion, discussion and apparent progress that has been made in this area.

Somehow, these asylum seekers seem less worthy. The Syrian asylum seekers that we can see arriving in Europe or waiting in Turkish refugee camps seem more human and in need of help.

I was pleased at the announcement that Australia was accepting 12,000 more Syrian refugees, but disappointed that the same indifference to the asylum seekers in offshore processing centres remains.

It should be noted that only 26 of the 12,000 refugees have actually been accepted.
There is no doubt that hundreds of people died at sea while trying to reach Australia. No one wants that situation to arise again.

But, as I mentioned previously, there is widespread acknowledgement that the detention of children has no impact on the actions of people smugglers.

It is also no excuse for the lack of transparency and inadequate provision of health care to the asylum seekers for whom Australia has a responsibility.

The issue of a boycott in terms of providing services to detention facilities by Australian doctors has been raised a number of times.

I don’t agree that is the way forward, not just because IHMS will recruit from overseas, as it is already doing, but for simple reasons.

Provision of medical treatment to asylum seekers is not condoning the system or being complicit. Far from it. Rather, it is what doctors and nurses always do. They put the patient first.

As I said at the National Press Club last year, it would not matter what we said on this issue. Doctors would go and care for these people because that is what doctors do.
If we want to change the Government’s approach, it must be through the weight of public opinion.

Australians need to understand that this is not an argument based on political ideology.

Rather, it is an argument based on our Australian identity, not just in terms of how the rest of the world sees us, but how we see ourselves.

It is based on the prevention of harm, the welfare of our patients as people but, most importantly, it is based on compassion. It is the right thing to do.

There will be some who might wonder why the AMA has spoken out so strongly on this issue.

As doctors, we care for all people, without regard to race or creed, without regard to where they come from. That is a basic moral tenet of our profession.

My message to the Government and to the Labor Party is this: You need to listen to doctors, nurses, and other health practitioners - particularly the experts in the fields of psychiatry and children’s health.

The AMA is calling for the following:

One - a moratorium on asylum seeker children being sent back to detention centres.

Two - the immediate release of all children from both offshore and onshore detention centres into the community where they can be properly cared for.

Three - the establishment of a transparent, national statutory body of clinical experts, independent of government, with the power to investigate and report to the Parliament on the health and welfare of asylum seekers and refugees.

And, four - if the Government or Opposition cannot provide satisfactory health care to people seeking asylum, then their policies should be revisited. 
Australia, to me, represents democracy, freedom, openness, and accountability. A fair go and honesty are sources of national pride.

The reality is that children, and adults, are being subjected to physical and emotional harm.

People are being moved in the middle of the night without notice; under a cloak of secrecy and intimidation.

Denying people access to the legal representatives.

Threatening to forcibly remove a baby from Hospital against medical advice.

Our colleagues are being intimidated.

It is being done by the Australian Government, and it is being done in our name.

This is happening now. It is occurring during our time.

It’s time for all of us to listen to our conscience. To give a voice to our better angels.
It’s time to say that this is not what Australia is, it is not what Australia stands for, and we want it to stop.

Colleagues and friends, it is a simple truth that asylum seekers are people like me, like you.

They are no different. Just as our friends and colleagues came here seeking asylum for themselves and their families, to escape persecution and death, so are these people.

But, just like all of the other wrongs, Australia’s detention of children and our treatment of asylum seekers is indefensible because it fails the one true test.

That test is how we love and care for our fellow man and woman, and particularly how we love, care, and nurture the children of this world.

Thank you.


News reports on 21 February 2016 indicate that the Baby Asha will now be staying in community detention while receiving follow-up medical treatment, however she will be transferred back to Nauru eventually.