May 01, 2013
Bianca Hall is immigration correspondent
Families will remain on Manus Island, despite staff at the camp going public with concerns children were at risk at the asylum seeker detention centre.
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor on Tuesday rejected opposition claims that the government was preparing to move families off Manus Island in response to a doctor’s warning of health risks.
Dr John Valentine, a former International Health and Medical Services worker, told the ABC’s Four Corners program on Monday that he had tried in vain to warn authorities that the Manus Island camp did not have sufficient medical supplies and equipment to care for children.
He also said the centre was so remote that anyone requiring emergency care would have to wait 24 hours for specialised treatment.
Despite this, he said, authorities soon sent a severely anaphylactic young boy and a nine-year-old girl with anaemia and a reported history of blood transfusions to the camp.
”The whole time I was there it was just a disaster, medically,” Dr Valentine said.
”They ought not to be in Manus Island. It’s just too remote and the medical facilities are quite inadequate.”
Opposition immigration minister Scott Morrison said on Monday that he had heard ”unconfirmed reports” that the government was preparing to act on the concerns.
”We understand that the government has now taken the decision that will see families taken off Manus Island in the course of the next week or so,” Mr Morrison told Sky News.
Mr Morrison, who visited the Manus Island facility in March, agreed it was not suitable for children.
”The Coalition had always questioned the government’s decision to put families on Manus Island.
”We’ve always said that the better place to do that would be on Nauru,” he said.
But Mr O’Connor said that no decision had been made to remove children from Manus Island.
”We’ve made no decision on this,” Mr O’Connor told the ABC.
”I haven’t been contemplating a change to the composition of people on Manus.”
The minister had refused to be interviewed by ABC’s Four Corners, which aired Dr Valentine’s concerns, with host Kerry O’Brien saying they were directed to ”turn up for one of his doorstops if we liked”.
Dr Valentine said working at Manus Island had made him ”ashamed to be an Australian”.
He said he had continually sent lists of equipment he desperately needed to his manager and staff in Sydney, including oxygen, antibiotics, bladder catheters, anaesthetic agents and sedatives.
”The oxygen was terribly important and it didn’t arrive. Where was it? Where was it? We kept asking, could we have it? Send it up. It never came.”
IHMS told Four Corners that medical provisions and replacements are ”supplied as required”.
There are now more than 30 children on Manus Island.
The Salvation Army’s Paul Moulds was director of offshore missions at Nauru and Manus Island before recently returning to Sydney.
He said he had spent almost his entire career in homelessness services, but said he had never had a harder job than that he faced in Australia’s offshore processing centres.
”I can say quite honestly the people I work with from government and from the host countries, I don’t think they want to injure asylum seekers. I don’t think they want to see more damage done to them. But Australia has to determine, it has to weigh up the consequences of what it’s doing.”
Australian Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs suggested the government had rushed the opening of the centres for political expediency.
”It’s not as though we didn’t know what offshore processing could bring … we know how dangerous and debilitating it was. We know the effect it had on people … but I think, frankly, it was caught up in a political environment at the time and not enough serious thought was given to what the consequences were going to be.”
While the figure is expected to be revised in the May budget, offshore processing is currently forecast to cost $2.3 billion over the next four years.
The United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees’ regional spokesman, Richard Towle, said this was a matter for Australia, but said: ”I would say, however, that UNHCR’s global budget for this year is $3.7 billion and with that money we’re expected to respond to the crises of Syria, Mali, Afghanistan, for 25 million globally.”