AMA Transcript - Children in Immigration detention

12 Oct 2015

Transcript: AMA President Professor Brian Owler, Today, 12 October 2015

Subject: Children in Immigration detention

LISA WILKINSON:  Doctors at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne remain locked in a bitter dispute with the Federal Government over their refusal to discharge asylum seeker children. Medical teams at the hospital say they will not release children after treatment, only for them to be locked up in immigration detention centres again. The President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Brian Owler, joins me now. Good morning to you.

BRIAN OWLER: Good morning.

LISA WILKINSON: Can you tell us exactly what the AMA's position is on this?

BRIAN OWLER: Well, the AMA's position has been clear for some time. There is no reason why we should have children in detention. We know from various reports, both through the Human Rights Commission, but through independent reports as well, that having children in detention is a form of abuse. It is harmful to them, both psychologically and physically, and that's been well-documented. And this country needs to get all of those children out of detention and back into a safe environment.

LISA WILKINSON: Can you tell us exactly what sort of conditions, is your understanding of the conditions that these children are facing every day?

BRIAN OWLER: Well, it's a very distressing environment, because essentially these people are detained, so it's a form of jail. Now, they may have some play equipment, they may have some teaching, but that is going to be limited, and they're in an environment where there are people that are in very desperate circumstances, and many of these children are obviously exposed to things that we wouldn't want any child exposed to.

LISA WILKINSON: The Human Rights Commission talks of abuse on a large scale.

BRIAN OWLER: We need to start talking directly about what this is. Now, this is not a party political matter, and both sides of politics have been guilty of this. This is a systematic abuse of children that is sanctioned by the government by putting people, children, in detention.

LISA WILKINSON: And how often are children being admitted as a direct result of the conditions that they're in?

BRIAN OWLER: Well, not frequently enough, because we know that many children suffer in these facilities, and are being exposed to things that no child should be exposed to. When people have gone in to talk to children, to study what's happening, the results of those reports have been very clear. These children are being harmed, and it's going to have long-term consequences in terms of their psychological, but also physical, health.

LISA WILKINSON: These doctors have spoken out despite the risk of jail sentences, in doing this. You've got the Victorian Health Minister on side, you've had refugee rallies around the country over the course of the weekend. You seem to have support, but is it going to be enough for change to happen?

BRIAN OWLER: Well, I'm not sure what else needs to happen for a change. We know that there are many children that have been out, are now out of detention thanks to the efforts of the previous Immigration Minister. But we still have about 200 children in detention - about half in Australia, half offshore. Now, I'm not sure what else needs to change. Doctors are put in a very difficult position because, if we had a child that comes into our hospital that we feared if sending them back to an environment which we felt was going to be harmful, where they were at risk of abuse, we would be negligent if we sent them back to that environment. And that is what the doctors at the Royal Children's Hospital are saying. We cannot send children back to an environment where they're going to be harmed. Why are these children treated as any less of a citizen, as any less of a human, than our own children?

LISA WILKINSON: Malcolm Turnbull spoke very strongly on this issue before he became Prime Minister. Has he got the courage to make change happen? Do you have a message for the Prime Minister?

BRIAN OWLER: Well, the message is, get the children out of detention. There is no reason why these children need to be in detention. It is not a deterrent for the boats to stop coming. This is a matter of human rights, it's a matter of stopping systematic abuse of children that is sanctioned by the Australian government.

LISA WILKINSON: Dr Brian Owler, thanks very much.

BRIAN OWLER: Pleasure.


12 October 2015

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