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Monday, 12 October 2015
Page: 7311


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (15:29): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to a question without notice asked by Senator Di Natale today relating to asylum seeker children.

On the weekend the brave doctors, nurses and other health professionals at the Melbourne Royal Children's Hospital gathered together to say that it is not in the interests of their patients, young children, to return to detention centres in Nauru. They spoke with one voice. They made an assessment that their obligation was to their patients in front of them. Senator Brandis, in his contribution, indicated that he thought they were making a political statement. I can tell you that if you are looking after somebody who is suffering from severe trauma, who is experiencing distressing mental ill health—symptoms of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts—and you as a physician are being asked to return that individual to the circumstances which created those conditions, that is not a political statement. That is a statement that you make in your professional capacity: 'It is not appropriate for me, as a treating physician, as a health professional, to return that individual to the circumstances that have created so much harm.'

The detention centres that we have established, both offshore and within Australia, are mental illness factories. They are systematic conditions that contribute to the huge harms that we are now seeing many, many children experiencing in medical care right across the country. As a health professional, it is your ethical responsibility—you have a duty of care—to ensure that those individuals are not exposed to the conditions which have created the trauma for which you are treating them. In fact, today we have had a contribution by many esteemed health professionals, including a former Australian of the Year, Patrick McGorry; the College of Mental Health Nurses; Maternal, Child and Family Health Nurses Australia; the Public Health Association; the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. They have spoken up today and have said directly to the Prime Minister in an open letter that this cannot continue—that in the interests of their patients we must end this cruel and arbitrary policy of mandatory detention of young children and their families.

The good news is that we know the Prime Minister has talked about this. I quote from his response to a Human Rights Commission report, The forgotten children: national inquiry into children in immigration detention:

The bottom line is this: one child in detention is one child too many. Everyone is anguished by having children locked up in detention.

He is absolutely right. One child in detention is one child too many. He made those comments before he was Prime Minister of this country. Now, as the Prime Minister of this nation, he has the capacity to do something about it. He can show some leadership and demonstrate that we have actually changed the Prime Minister for a reason, not just to fulfil Mr Turnbull's personal ambition to become Prime Minister but to have a Prime Minister with a purpose. If he is going to genuinely change the direction of this country, why not start right now by ending the mandatory detention of young children and their families?

We have, for goodness sake, young children with marks around their necks because they are attempting to self-harm using implements in those detention centres. We have people, kids, being treated because their hair is falling out because of the stress and trauma that they are experiencing. We heard today of one young child saying, 'What if I killed myself—would that guarantee access for my family to this country?' We are putting children in a position where they need to ask those sorts of questions. What has this government done to this nation when children are asking those sorts of questions? It must stop. The health professionals of this country say it must stop; now it is up to the Prime Minister.

Question agreed to.