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Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House, Perth: 8 January 2004: hunger strike in Nauru.

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Stephen Smith MP Shadow Minister for Immigration Member for Perth

02/04 8 January 2004



SMITH: The Government’s attitude to the hunger strike in Nauru is a complete disgrace. The management of the issue is now in grave danger of becoming a major debacle. You will recall that very early in the piece Immigration Minister Vanstone said it wasn’t the Howard Government’s responsibility. Yesterday the former Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, repeated that saying it wasn’t a matter for Australia, it was a matter for the Nauru Government. He also made the point that he believed the Nauru government was only making the suggestion that medical facilities were not appropriate or adequate to try and screw more money out of Australia. If this is the Howard Government’s attitude toward the Government of Nauru and the people of Nauru, then why did the Howard Government ..inaudible .. hunger strike in the first place?

We now have the unseemly sight of the government of Nauru, having been rebuffed by the Australian government, effectively touted the AMA to send a medical delegation to Nauru to examine the situation. The Howard Government should urgently send a Commonwealth medical officer to Nauru to do an assessment and report urgently to the Government. If the Government won’t take the word of the Government of Nauru then it should urgently send back a qualified medical practitioner, or more as the case may be, preferably in the company of Mr Hodges, the Chair of the Immigration Detention Advisory Group, and make their own assessment. No stone should be left unturned here in making sure that the hunger strikers have adequate medical services and treatment.

JOURNALIST: And then what? They be treated there or brought back to Australia?

SMITH: They should be treated in Nauru. I’ve made the point right from the first moment that there was suggestions of the medical services and facilities might not be adequate or appropriate that the Australian government, the Howard Government, had to make sure that it there was any doubt the medical facilities might not be adequate or appropriate they had to err on the side of caution and send those facilities personnel, equipment and services to Nauru, so as to ensure that there no

danger that anything was left to doubt …inaudible… The Government has rebuffed the suggestion made yesterday by the Finance Minister of Nauru. Not only is the Government of Nauru concerned about the adequacy of treatment to the hunger strikers, they are also feeling the pressure that that is putting on the Nauru hospital has the potential to cause difficulty for the treatment the people of Nauru themselves. So there’s an urgent crisis here and the Government has to respond, and it can’t respond simply by saying it is not our responsibility. It is the Howard Government’s

responsibility, they should urgently dispatch Mr Hodges back to Nauru in the company of a qualified medical practitioner or practitioners and do their own assessment …inaudible…

JOURNALIST: inaudible.. AMA delegation

SMITH: That’s a matter for the Government of Nauru, but what it does do is underline the point that the Government of Nauru has entirely lost hope that the Australian government might respond in any reasonable way. I make the point that the Government management of this issue is in grave danger of going to debacle and that’s because we have the unseemly sight of the Government of Nauru effectively touting for an AMA team to go there. The Howard Government should send a qualified medical practitioner to directly advise the Howard Government as to the

circumstances in Nauru. And the Government should do that in the company of Mr Hodges. And when Hodges is there, he should also make the point to the detainees the Howard government will respond favourably to the request made by the UNHCR to review cases previously assessed by Australian officials on the basis of the UNHCR’s view of changed circumstances in various regions of Afghanistan.

JOURNALIST: What if someone actually dies, surely the Government has to take responsibility for that?

SMITH: Let’s just take thing step by step. The reason I’ve been saying, since the first moment that there was a suggestion that the medical services might not be able to cope adequately, was that the provision of medical service had to be the absolute highest priority . That remains the absolute ..inaudible… inaudible..for the Howard Government to say it’s not our responsibility in the face of the comments yesterday by the Finance Minister of Nauru that not only was he worried about the adequacy of medical services being provided to hunger strikers, he was also concerned that that would place a burden on the capacity of the Nauru hospital to service the people of Nauru themselves.

JOURNALIST: inaudible

SMITH Let’s take it step by step. As I’ve said for some time making sure there is adequate provision of medical services is the highest priority. That needs to be attended to as a matter of urgency.

JOURNALIST: Where does the Australian Government draw the line in terms of ..inaudible…

SMITH: Ultimately the Australian Government has a responsible to ensure every medical service is made available to the hunger strikers. Yesterday the

Government of Nauru said that they didn’t believe the services were adequate and that the Australian Government hadn’t spoken to them. I would have the thought the first thing the Australian Government would do in the face of a hunger strikes would be to sit down with the government of Nauru and have a private conversation with them rather than sledging them in public. The government should sit down with the Government in Nauru, have a sensible conversation with them, send their own medical practitioner to Nauru, so they can receive an independent medically qualified assessment and respond in an urgent manner. Rather than saying as former Immigration Minister did yesterday that it’s not the Commonwealth responsibility and the only reason the Nauru Government is doing this to screw some more money out of Australia. The response doesn’t require more money, it requires urgent medical assessment as to whether further medical personnel or services are required.

JOURNALIST: ..inaudible…medical treatment is the priority would you expect the Government to favourably respond to the AMA delegation?

SMITH: I would prefer that the Government send its own medically qualified practitioner. It’s all well and good for the AMA, in their own mind quite rightly to say we are available to help but the responsibility here is the responsibility of the Australian government. The Australian government should be sending it’s own medically qualified team. A team that it has confidence in, rather than the AMA having to go cap in hand to the government saying we’re to go to make an assessment, and by the way would you mind helping us out with the fare.