This week, the slow softening of the government’s rhetoric on asylum seekers has continued, with reports that all children would be removed from immigration detention on Nauru by Christmas. Outsourcing the initial announcement to former attorney-general George Brandis, Prime Minister Scott Morrison even went so far as to take credit for the quiet, dignified way in which he’d apparently organised evacuation of children to Australia. In many cases, it has been the courts — not the government — that have been helping children out of detention.
“Children have been transferred off Nauru, that’s been happening for some time. I haven’t been showboating about it,” Morrison said on Thursday. “I haven’t been drawing attention to it. It’s been done in accordance with our policies, our existing policies.”
This claim does not stack up to any scrutiny. Over the past year, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Federal Court, vigorously fighting attempts to bring sick children from Nauru for treatment in Australia.
“There’s been absolute deception from the government on this,” Jana Favero, director of advocacy and campaigns at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) told Crikey. “There is a significant contradiction between what the government is saying and what it is doing.”
“It’s a real sleight of hand for the government to point to the children in Australia as if their evacuation was some kind of humanitarian gesture, when they’ve opposed most of those transfers in our Federal Court,” Daniel Webb, director for legal advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, told Sky on Thursday.
“We had a case in the Federal Court at 1am on a Sunday morning, for a child who, on the medical evidence was at risk of dying in one or two days.”
The court ordered the child be brought to Australia for medical treatment.
“So in our experience, the kids who are being brought to Australia are being rescued from the government, not by the government,” Webb said.
Of the 135 people who have been brought to Australia from Nauru since the middle of October — 47 of whom are children — only 49 were removed by the government without Federal Court intervention. In the remainder of cases, the court has had to force the government to bring the people to Australia for urgent medical attention.
“Every time, we’ve filed in court, and they’ve gone to court to fight,” Favero said. “Every time, the government argued children on Nauru are not as sick as assessments conducted by independent paediatric experts make out,” she said, and every time, “the court has found in favour of independent medical assessment”.
In the last few years, the Federal Court has made orders requiring the transfer of over 90 people requiring urgent medical care, while 240 — 104 of whom are children — were evacuated only after refugee activist groups threatened or commenced urgent legal proceedings. The vast majority of these transfers occurred in the last year.
Just to highlight the government’s savage hypocrisy; today they are challenging the Federal Court’s jurisdiction to make orders for asylum seekers to be transferred at all.
“It’s quite a remarkable example of the contradictions between the government’s words and their actions,” Favero said.
Children, some of whom have been on Nauru for nearly their entire lives, face what the Australian Medical Association and whistleblowers describe as a health crisis. This peaked with the chilling reports of a spike in self-harm among children on Nauru, as well as the fact that children were googling how to kill themselves.
Favero believes there has been a “significant deterioration” in the conditions children on Nauru face, with many experiencing severe mental health issues because of a “situation of helplessness and hopelessness”.
Favero says those who were initially offered resettlement under the US refugee deal, only to be later rejected because of Donald Trump’s “Muslim ban” were affected with particular severity.
“You had kids who had hope, who packed their bags, and saw all their friends leaving, and that really tipped them over the edge”.