Deja Vu – Asylum Seeker Children In Detention

Deja Vu – Asylum Seeker Children In Detention

AMA Federal Conference 2005 – Urgency Motion – Asylum Seekers

Published In: Australian Children’s Rights News – Number 39, July 2005 18


This is the text of the speech given by Dr Michael Gliksman, member of Council of the AMA(NSW) in support of his motion, produced below, that condemned the treatment of children in detention by the Howard Government, at the AMA Federal Conference held on 27-29th May 2005 in Darwin.

Doctors as a group are reluctant to enter the political fray, for good reason. It is the antithesis of why we chose to practice medicine: to help people, to labour in an honest profession, to benefit society without prospect of or desire for disproportionate reward.

But there is a long established exception to this reluctance; when the health and well being of people are threatened by any policy or practice espoused by any government, of any political flavour.

We doctors gathered here at the AMA Conference in Darwin represent an association distinguished by its public advocacy of prominent health issues.
The AMA is the premier medical association in Australia, without exception. Its respect and authority is born not only from the large number of doctors it represents but also from the integrity, power and principle it brings to bear on its policy and advocacy role.

Our tradition of advocacy for the disadvantaged, for the indigenous community, for women’s health and rural health are testament to that.

In Australia today there exists another shameful conjunction between injustice and ill-health involving foreseeable, avoidable and possibly irreparable harm to the most vulnerable of all. I speak of the indefinite detention of children – babies too – charged with nothing, guilty of nothing, in Australia’s very own Gulag Archipelago stretching from Christmas Island through our remote deserts an on into malaria blighted islands in the South Pacific.

Some of the children have been there from birth, born in Australia but denied their birth right of citizenship, knowing no crib but one bounded by razor wire, denied the protection of the States’ child protection legislation we all take for granted. Out of sight and largely out of mind, Australia is building a generation of damaged children almost all of who, statistics show, will at some indeterminate time in the future be granted refugee status. In the deserts and on isolated islands, we are building a legacy to haunt and shame us for generations, for abuse is transmissible.

Our psychiatrist and paediatric physician colleagues know well the breadth and depth of damage that indefinite detention inflicts on young minds. Perhaps some may speak of that here in favour of this motion?
As we consider this motion, 68 children remain in indefinite detention, their health and development blighted by the ongoing abuse that is integral to the fact of that detention.

We know the damage done and equally, we know the remedy. We would not remain silent in the face of such abuse in any other setting. We must not here.

We need to send a strong, clear and unequivocal message, one that cannot be spin doctored into oblivion, one that is true to our tradition; that each child’s health, development and well being is paramount, standing above individual and party political interests. This motion provides that message.

We stand at a watershed. In the battle between votes and children, decent people, our profession, have little choice. We can fight with the angels or stand silent with the devil. Our choice is that stark.

In the years to come, when your grandchildren learn in school of what was done in our name to the children of others and ask: “what did you do to stop it?”, remember the words General Patton addressed to his anxious troops before a crucial battle of liberation: “At least you can say – I didn’t shovel shit in Indiana”.

The motion below and its 4 points was adopted by majority vote of delegates. The release of children in detention was commenced soon after by the Howard Government.

Motion: Children in Immigration Detention
Mover: Dr Michael Gliksman Seconder: Dr Michael Noel
In accordance with AMA Policy Resolution 7073-3/02 “That Federal Council endorse representatives to approach the Government as a matter of urgency to address the issue of health care provided to asylum seekers in Australia,” and there being strong medical evidence of significant harm to children’s emotional and developmental health from being in indefinite detention.

That the Federal Council be requested to look into the situation of children in immigration detention and develop a position that calls on the Federal Government to:

1. Recognise that the indefinite detention of children is child abuse;
2. Recognise that it is unethical to provide psychiatric services in a setting where the provider is under the direction, influence or control of the abuser;
3. Release immediately all children detained in immigration detention facilities;
4. Release immediately all immigration detainees suffering mental disorders into appropriate psychiatric facilities.

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