Over the past year I have watched my fellow doctors find their voice, notably sparked by Dr Sara Townend, an unsung hero who managed to get all of her professional colleges and the AMA to finally crank up the pressure on the politicians in Canberra. This resulted in a shift in public attitudes, and the Kids Off Nauru campaign has resulted in nearly all of the children on Nauru leaving the small island that had been their world for the past five years.
A victory for decency certainly, and seeing motions being passed in the senate to try and change the current situation of bureaucrats ignoring or overriding doctors opinions on sick people who remain under Australia’s care has also been very gratifying. The disgraceful spectacle of the government refusing to allow this motion to be debated in the house of representatives shall remain with me, and should stand as a shameful testament to a morally bereft administration that would rather see the continued suffering of refugees and asylum seekers than suffer the ignominy of losing a vote.
I fear that now the collective heartstrings of the Australian public have been plucked, and the Kids Off Nauru campaign has effectively succeeded, the fate of the remaining refugees and asylum seekers who continue to languish in indefinite detention will be forgotten by the public, advocacy groups and politicians.
This is a group of young men and women who have committed no crime, and who have been overwhelmingly found to be genuine refugees; I wonder who will speak for them. Already we have had a steady drip feed of racist rhetoric from our elected leaders. If you can demonise whole segments of the population such as Sudanese young men in Melbourne and still get away with it, attacking a bunch of men stuck on Manus is not going to be difficult. And, aside from a small few groups of dedicated activists, nobody is speaking in their defence. If, instead of a child, a picture of one of these men was projected onto the opera house, I wouldn’t be surprised if Alan Jones thought it was a Police: Wanted poster.
Thousands of people arrive in Australia by plane and overstay their visas. Those people who risked drowning at sea are much more likely to be found to be genuine refugees. They suffer on two remote islands that remain woefully ill-equipped to deal with such an influx of disparate groups to their tight-knit populations, all in the name of empty slogans such as ‘saving lives at sea’ and ‘keeping Australia safe.’ Australia’s treatment of the people who remain desperately psychologically and often physically harmed remains a disgrace.
It is time for genuine moral leadership to acknowledge that all of the refugees and asylum seekers have languished in indefinite detention for too long, and deserve to be settled in a place of safety. To do this will require moral courage; to acknowledge that young men in particular are seen as a threat by some sections of the public, and used as political punch bags by politicians who should know better. These people have suffered enough.
Nick Martin is a GP. He trained in the UK, worked around the world with the Royal Navy and now practices as a GP in Australia.