ABBOTS OPPOSITION TO MARRIAGE EQUALITY WILL COST THE LIBERALS FOR YEARS TO come

Tony Abbott leaves the chamber during question time
BY Jeff  Sparrow
 ‘Marriage will become the Lost Cause of the Australian Right: something that conservative politicians and pundits mutter darkly about, without any real hope of changing.’ Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian

Though he devised his plebiscite scheme to trap equal marriage advocates, Tony Abbott unwittingly created a snare for the Liberal party, one that’s wrapped them in impossible tangles.

With every poll showing public support for reform, a cannier conservative might have quietly passed the necessary legislation, thus taking the subject off the table.

Instead, as I argued back in 2016, by committing the Liberals to a popular vote, Abbott placed his disagreement with the majority of Australians right in the centre of public debate.

Already, Malcolm Turnbull’s version of the plebiscite has unleashed an extraordinary tide of sentiment.

A few random examples:

For young Australians in particular, opposition to marriage reform just seems bizarre, a weird legacy of a prejudice they’ve never endorsed.

And now they’re voting.

The Australian Electoral Commission has revealed that 90,000 new voters – most of them young – have registered since the poll was announced, a number it calls “extraordinary”.

Something like a million Australians have either updated their details or enrolled for the first time – and, once they’re on the roll, they’re legally obliged to participate in future elections.

Not surprisingly, some Liberal party insiders are already aghast about what their leaders have done.

“You’re motivating a group of people, the large portion of them young, who are naturally going to vote against you at the next election,” a worried strategist told Buzzfeed’s Mark Di Stefano. “It’s just not smart.”

Unlike, say, Labor’s Penny Wong (who voted to ban same-sex marriage and spoke against equality as late as 2010), Turnbull’s always publicly endorsed reform.

But after pushing through his weird postal plebiscite, he can’t campaign for a yes vote with any passion, not least because he couldn’t appear at rallies without being booed. While Bill Shorten’s team rushes to associate itself with the yes campaign, Turnbull must spend most of his time defending a shonky process that pleases no one.

Not surprisingly, the poll has widened the already deep divisions within the Coalition.

Turnbull is openly at odds with Abbott, who has gleefully positioned himself as the unofficial leader of the nos.

The Herald Sun’s James Campbell recently reported that the Australian Christian Lobby, Marriage Alliance, the Catholic archdiocese of Sydney, the Anglican diocese of Sydney and other conservative groups have begun sharing databases as they campaign together as the Coalition for Marriage.

Campbell thinks the coalition could be the beginning of that mythical beast, a rightwing alternative to GetUp.

But there’s a big problem with that idea: namely, opposition to same-sex rights has become a fringe preoccupation.

Look at Tony Abbott’s own career

In the Quarterly Essay entitled Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott, David Marr describes the young Abbott launching himself into Sydney University politics by attacking gay students for “perversion”.

Publicly identifying himself “an infrequently practising heterosexual and drunkard” (truly!), Abbott opposed the legalisation of homosexuality. His friends remember the way he baited lesbians during political arguments.

But that, of course, was a different time, an era in which prejudice could be taken for granted.

If Abbott repeated today the language he used when he was promoting the Heterosexual Solidarity Society (yep, seriously), his parliamentary career would be over.

Years of struggle against prejudice have shifted the parameters of public discourse so that most Australians now see the kind of “jokes” in which Abbott once specialised as hateful.

 On Thursday, radio host Kyle Sandilands labelled as a “homophobe” a talkback caller who said that same-sex couples shouldn’t raise children.

Now, the man’s rhetoric was far less offensive than that employed by the young Tony Abbott – but Sandilands (in a clip shared a million times) still denounced him as a “fuckwit”, “cockhead” and “wanker”.

With even shockjocks calling out homophobes, it’s not surprising that, as Abbott urged a no vote, he felt compelled to add, “I’m not saying that there is anything inferior about a relationship between a man and a man or a woman and a woman.”

His evolution (he was once opposing legalisation of homosexuality; he now acknowledges homosexual relationships as not “inferior”) hints at the fragility of the anti-reform alliance.

That’s why, contrary to Campbell’s claim, the Coalition for Marriage doesn’t provide any real foundation for a broader conservative movement.

Whatever the Catholic or the Anglican archdioceses say, the vast majority of religious believers (like the vast majority of Australians) support same-sex marriage – and have done so for a long time.

So here’s the paradox

The best outcome for the Liberals, given the pickle they’re in, would be for the high court to strike down the plebiscite process.

If that happens – if the postal vote’s derailed – the life will go out of the grassroots activism and marriage reform will stall until the next election.

Barring some huge upset, Labor will win power and then, presumably, amend the Marriage Act.

Under those circumstances, the Liberal right and the ACL will continue pretending they represent mainstream Australia. They’ll bluster about lawyers interfering with the democratic process; they’ll imply that the no campaign would have won.

Marriage will become the Lost Cause of the Australian Right: something that conservative politicians and pundits mutter darkly about, without any real hope of changing.

If, on the other hand, the postal survey goes ahead, the Liberals are cooked, whatever the result.

The campaign for the postal vote will initiate thousands of people into participatory politics. In schools, in universities and in workplaces, they’ll campaign for a yes vote – with almost every institution or organisation that matters to young people already urging reform.

They’ll march on the street; they’ll hand out leaflets; they’ll go to marriage equality events.

The campaign itself will highlight the difference between the pro- and anti-equality forces.

Does anyone really think that Lyle Shelton and his allies on the religious right could, for instance, have organised an event comparable to the rally in Melbourne on Saturday: a huge assembly, joyous and young and angry?

If the yes case wins, a generation will know they played a role in reshaping the country – and they did so in opposition to the Liberal party.

That’s not something you easily forget.

Even if the yes case loses, participants will (rightly) blame the trickiness of the postal vote for frustrating the majority sentiment identified in every reputable survey – and they’ll be more determined than ever to get the Liberals out.

Either way, we might well be on the cusp of a significant new anti-Liberal constituency, one that will affect Australian politics for years to come.

  • Jeff Sparrow is a Guardian Australia columnist

MARK KELLY LAM BLASTS TURNBULL FOR REELING OUT THE DISTRACTIONS. OH DEAR !

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/any-deport-in-a-storm-malcolm-turnbulls-search-for-a-distraction-20170828-gy5pdw.html
Pater Hartcher says “Yes, Houston, you do have a problem, and – as insensitive as it seems to bring it up just now – some of it is your own making.” I wonder what Malcolm Roberts would think about this article.
http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/houston-you-have-a-problem-and-some-of-it-of-your-own-making-20170827-gy5cmy.html
Electricity generators have rebuked the Turnbull government for delaying the introduction of a clean energy target, arguing a target will trigger new investment and bring down power bills.
http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/power-companies-rebuke-turnbull-government-over-clean-energy-target-20170828-gy5i4m.html
Australia produced enough renewable energy to power 70 per cent of households last financial year, new data shows, but advocates warn the booming industry will flounder unless the Turnbull government commits to a clean energy target.
http://www.smh.com.au/environment/energy-smart/renewable-energy-booming-but-could-soon-turn-to-bust-analysts-warn-20170825-gy4egf.html

YOUNG PEOPLE IN COFFS HARBOUR ELECTORATE ENCOURAGED TO APPLY FOR THE NSW ADVISORY COUNCIL

YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE COFFS HARBOUR ELECTORATE ENCOURAGED TO APPLY FOR THE  NSW YOUTH ADVISORY COUNCIL

The Member for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser, today announced applications for the 2018 NSW Youth Advisory Council (YAC) are now open.

The NSW YAC has a statutory role to advise the NSW Government on issues of importance to young people, as well as monitor and evaluate youth-related policies and legislation.

Council members are sought from diverse locations, backgrounds and life experiences.

Mr Fraser said the NSW YAC provides an important avenue for children and young people in the local area to have a say on Government policies and programs.

“I encourage young people in the Coffs Harbour electorate to apply to represent local youth and have a say on issues important to our community.  The feedback received from the Council plays an important role in assisting the NSW Government develop effective policies and programs.”

2017 YAC Chair, Declan Drake, found it rewarding to represent his peers.

“I’ve learned a great deal, but also genuinely feel I’ve had the opportunity to engage with matters I consider important to my generation,” Mr Drake said.

One of the key roles of the NSW YAC is to provide advice to the Advocate for Children and Young People, Andrew Johnson.

Mr Johnson, said the 12 person Council meets regularly throughout the year to monitor and evaluate policies and legislations that affect young people.

“The advice of the 2017 NSW YAC has been instrumental to our work throughout the year.  The Council also met with various NSW Government Departments, such as NSW Health, Multicultural NSW and NESA and helped organise events such as IDEATION 2017 and Youth Week.

“I urge young people to put their hand up to be the next NSW YAC leaders,” Mr Johnson said.

Council membership is open to all NSW residents between the ages of 12 and 24.

For more information and application forms please visit the Advocate for Children and Young People’s website www.acyp.nsw.gov.au or by call (02) 9248 0970. Please note that applications close at 11.59pm on Saturday 30 September 2017.

DON’T FORGET YOUR PET WHEN PLANNING AHEAD

Our pets share as much of our lives as any family member and to many pet owners, they’re just as important. Our ‘best friends’ are there for us every day, offering unconditional love. What happens to them if we’re not there?

Attorney General Mark Speakman and Member for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser, are launching a pet emergency card to prevent furry, feathered and finned friends from being left home alone when their owner dies or is seriously ill or injured.

“My labs Monty and Ralph are much loved members of my family. Most pet owners in the Coffs Harbour electorate feel the same way about their pets. The pet emergency card will bring peace of mind to pet owners who now have a way of ensuring others know to look after their pets in case of serious injury or death,” said Mr Speakman.

“The conveniently sized card is designed to fit in your wallet. There is space on the card for a pet owner to write their pet’s name and the details of who to contact in case of emergency,” Member for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser, said.

“The law already allows pet owners to make arrangements for the ongoing care of their animal companions after life events both unexpected and inevitable.

“Owners can make provision for pets in their will, power of attorney and enduring guardianship documents. NSW Trustee & Guardian prepares these documents for thousands of people in NSW each year.

NSW Trustee & Guardian can help get you started on your planning ahead documents, and if an accident or illness leaves you without the capacity to make decisions, your appointed attorney can look after your financial affairs while your enduring guardian will make medical and lifestyle decisions for you.

“Importantly, your appointed attorney is allowed to enter your home and assist your pets if you are unwell,” Mr Fraser added.

Emergency pet cards are free and can be ordered through the NSW Trustee & Guardian website www.tag.nsw.gov.au. To prepare a will, power of attorney or enduring guardianship documents, call 1300 364 103 or visit www.tag.nsw.gov.au.

 

 

 

28 August 2017

Ends

DUALCITIZENSHIP: bARNABYjOYCE RIVAL TONYWINDSOR JOINS HIGH COURT BATTLE

Case set down to return to high court on 10 October as the eligibility of several parliamentarians remains uncertain 

Barnaby Joyce
 Barnaby Joyce’s case will feature former independent MP Tony Windsor as a ‘contradictor’. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Tony Windsor, the former independent MP and rival to Barnaby Joyce, has been allowed to join the citizenship case being heard in the high court by chief justice Susan Kiefel, who has set down hearings in October.

Kiefel, at a directions hearing in Brisbane on Thursday, allowed Windsor to join the case as a “contradictor” after he stood unsuccessfully against Joyce, who belatedly discovered he was a New Zealand citizen.

The chief justice agreed with the solicitor general, Stephen Donaghue, that the matter of whether up to seven federal parliamentarians who held dual citizenship were valid candidates in the 2016 election was urgent. But proposed hearings in September were pushed back to 10-12 October in Canberra to accommodate legal teams for senators Matthew Canavan and Malcolm Roberts, who would call experts on foreign citizenship laws.

Canavan’s barrister, David Bennett, said he planned to produce evidence to show a “ridiculous” number of Australians, as much as 50% of the population, would be ineligible to run for parliament if citizenship-by-descent rules of foreign countries were held against his client.

The Liberal National party senator unwittingly became an Italian citizen when he was two years old because of changes to Italian laws that were constitutionally invalid, according to his expert evidence, Bennett said.

Donaghue, for the attorney general George Brandis, said he would argue that Scott Ludlam and possibly Roberts were “different” cases to the others in that they would have known they were at one time foreign citizens, and should be disqualified.

Ludlam, who was born in New Zealand, applied at the age of 19 to be an Australian citizen.

The barrister Robert Newlinds, for Roberts, said his client did not concede that he was ever anything but an Australian citizen but that he had contacted the British Home Office before his nomination to take steps to renounce any British citizenship via his Welsh father, just in case. British authorities had subsequently sent Roberts a form and confirmed his renunciation after he was elected.

Donaghue said he was aware of a historical document suggesting Roberts was previously a British citizen and, if that was correct, he fell into the category of a person who knew he was a foreign citizen.

In that case the question with both Ludlam and Roberts was whether they had taken “reasonable steps” to renounce, as the high court had previously found was necessary to avoid falling foul of section 44 of the constitution.

The “critical factual issue” around the steps Roberts took was “likely to be resolved on the obtaining of that document” in which he formally renounced to British authorities.

Section 44 says any person who is a “citizen of a foreign power” is “incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives”.

But Donaghue said the attorney general would argue in the case of Joyce, Canavan and probably Larissa Waters that none of them knew they were foreign citizens and were not disqualified.

He said the previous case of Sykes v Cleary had prompted the court to find that citizens born in Australia who had not taken “affirmative” action to seek or accept foreign citizenship should not be captured by section 44.

Foreign citizenship laws could not apply where a person “subjectively” did not know they were subject to them, Donaghue said. This was the “clear demarcation line” between the cases before the court, he said.

Donaghue said Canavan and his mother were both born in Australia before 1983, when the Italian government changed laws to retrospectively grant citizenship not just to those with Italian lineage on the father’s side but also the mother’s.

Bennet said the 1983 changes made it “irrelevant” that Canavan’s mother had applied for Italian citizenship when he was an adult on his behalf but without his knowledge.

He had expert advice that the retrospective effect of the Italian laws, in Canavan’s case with the ““slenderest of connections” to Italy, was invalid, Bennett said.

Bennett said he would argue that foreign laws that granted dual “citizenship by descent” to Australians should be ignored.

He said he would apply evidence on foreign rules of citizenship by descent to population figures from the Australian bureau of statistics to show that “possibly in the order of 50%” of people would be ruled out of running for federal parliament.

“That result is so ridiculous” that the interpretation of section 44 had to be “smoothed” to take this into account, Bennett said.

Donaghue said Canavan “retrospectively became an Italian citizen without doing anything”.

This was the very kind of scenario that the court in Sykes v Cleary “would find could not be captured” by the constitution, he said.

Donaghue said it was the same case with the Australian-born Joyce, whose father was born in New Zealand before that country’s citizenship was even a formal concept.

Both later unwittingly became New Zealand citizens because of “the operation of foreign law”.

Donaghue said Waters might well be in the same situation because it appeared she never knew about her dual citizenship after she was born in Canada to Australian parents who had no residency rights there.

Waters, like Ludlam, quit the Senate on discovering she was a dual citizen. But if she were found to be a valid candidate, it would open a casual vacancy for which Waters could nominate, having since renounced her Canadian citizenship.

The five cases now before the court are Joyce, Ludlam, Canavan, Roberts and Waters.

Since their referrals to the court by federal parliament, Joyce’s National party deputy, Fiona Nash, and Senator Nick Xenophon have since declared discoveries they too are dual citizens. The court awaits their referrals next month.

Barrister Ron Merkel, for Windsor, who has applied for permission to conduct cross-examination, said he would carry out research to argue that citizenship by descent was “standard” in international law.

A candidate with an overseas-born parent who signed a form declaring they did not hold dual citizenship upon nomination could then be expected to take reasonable steps that may include obtaining legal advice, Merkel said.

The presence in the case of Merkel for Windsor – who applied for standing 15 minutes before the deadline – raises the prospect he may take a broader role as a “contradictor” who may test the evidence put by legal teams for the other politicians.

Kiefel said the relevance of a candidate’s “subjective” state of mind – whether they knew they were dual citizens – may not lend itself to useful cross-examination.

Newlinds said Roberts could not be ready for hearings in September, as sought by the attorney general, because he sought access to expert advice reportedly held by the attorney general on British citizenship rules regarding Nash, and to apply this to the senator’s own circumstances.

He also flagged the need for a “contradictor” to test evidence put forward by Roberts, saying “we would like people to accept our facts” on face value but it “didn’t seem proper” for the court to proceed that way.

Welfare recipients in Southwest Sydney first to be targeted by drug testing

Welfare recipients in south-west Sydney first to be targeted by drug testing

New regime ‘all about love’, Malcolm Turnbull says as Canterbury-Bankstown named the first of three trial sites

 Christian Porter
 Christian Porter says ‘real problems’ led to the Sydney area being chosen for the drug-testing trial. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian

Welfare recipients in Sydney’s Canterbury-Bankstown area will be the first to be targeted by the federal government’s drug-testing regime, which could push them on to cashless welfare cards.

The social services minister, Christian Porter, announced on Tuesday the first of three trial sites for the drug-testing regime to begin in 2018.

Porter told ABC’s AM the area in south-west Sydney had been chosen because of the “real problems with drugs in the community” shown by a wide range of data, the presence of support services for drug users and the “large number of people entering the welfare system”.

About 15% of new dole and youth allowance recipients, or some 1,700 people, will be forced to take a test.

After one positive test, welfare recipients will be subjected to income management with a “basics card” that will limit the amount of cash they can withdraw to 20% of their welfare. Porter said this would stop them from feeding “what might be drug use”.

After a second positive test, the commonwealth will provide a medical assessment that could result in a mandatory treatment regime if they want to continue receiving welfare.

The drug-testing regime is contained in a welfare bill that has been introduced to the lower house but the government is still negotiating with the Nick Xenophon Team to secure its passage through the Senate because it is opposed by Labor and the Greens.

Xenophon said on Tuesday he would continue negotiating “in good faith” with government, but expressed some concern about the proposal in its present form.

“So if we’re going to do this properly, we need to expand rapidly – and well – the sorts of drug treatment programs that are out there because there simply is a massive black hole in patient beds to deal with this,” he said.

Porter told ABC News Breakfast drug testing was a “commonsense approach … to identify people who have this problem and use the welfare system as a lever to require them to move into treatment”.

He said there was “lots of evidence” that compelling people into treatment programs could have a positive result but conceded: “No one has quite done particularly what we’re doing here in Australia anywhere else in the world.” The trial was designed to gather evidence about its effectiveness.

 Video explainer: Coalition’s drug-testing policy for welfare recipients

The program includes an extra $10m for drug treatment programs in the trial sites to deal with bottlenecks if services are overrun, although Porter promised that “people won’t be penalised if they’re on a waitlist” and couldn’t get treatment.

Anglicare Australia’s acting executive director, Roland Manderson, said the real problem faced by jobseekers in western Sydney was a lack of jobs.

Manderson said there were now five disadvantaged jobseekers for every vacancy at their skill level in western Sydney.

“That’s the real problem –people are competing for jobs that just aren’t there,” he told Guardian Australia on Tuesday. “Forcing people to take drug tests before they can get help won’t achieve anything.”

Drug researchers, frontline workers, psychiatrists, physicians and drug policy experts have all now warned the policy will not help reduce drug and alcohol addiction.

Manderson said similar measures abroad had proven costly and ineffective.

“The countries that have trialled random drug testing have found that it’s costly and doesn’t achieve anything. In the US, it has cost up to $1,600 USD per person.

“This plan has been rejected in Britain, rejected in Canada, It’s now up to the crossbench to look at the evidence and reject these changes.”

Porter said the program was not designed to stigmatise and millions of Australians worked in industries that require drug tests, such as transport and construction.

Malcolm Turnbull said the drug-testing trial was “all about love … and looking after our fellow Australians”.

“If you’ve got a friend who is on drugs, what do you want to do? You desperately want them to get off it,” he told 2Day FM.

The prime minister said the aim of the program was that recipients “won’t have the same freedom to spend [welfare] on drugs” and would only be able to spend on necessities such as food and rent.

He said the program was not founded on “making assumptions about people” but evidence showed people on the dole and youth allowance were “2.4 times more likely to be on drugs than those in the general community”.

But the chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service, Cassandra Goldie, said the policy demonised welfare recipients while doing nothing to address addiction.

Goldie said many welfare recipients would try to avoid testing, driving them away from the welfare system and leaving them “destitute without any income”.

“This will risk driving people into homelessness and crisis, exactly the opposite of what is needed to support someone dealing with an addiction,” Goldie said.

“For the people who are subjected to testing for no reason, this will just add further to their humiliation and sense of personal degradation,” she said.

Goldie said putting more people on income management would not drive behavioural change.

“We need the government to focus on addressing the lack of paid work available for people and making sure that people’s incomes are adequate to meet the cost of living,” she said.

“The minister has said he is optimistic that the Senate will support the measure, but I urge crossbenchers, including the Nick Xenophon Team, to consider the evidence that is available from overseas experience and particularly to look at what the drug and alcohol experts are saying,” Siewert said.

Labor’s Matt Thistlethwaite said the policy would not get more people into rehabilitation.

“If there was evidence from other jurisdictions in the world that these sort of programs work, then it would be worth considering. But that’s not the case,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.

“It didn’t work in the United States when they had similar programs. New Zealand instituted a similar program, it didn’t work there, it’s quite costly.”

Three pregnant refugees and nearly 50 others denied medical transfers from Nauru

Nearly 50 refugees and asylum seekers held on Nauru – including at least three women seeking to terminate a pregnancy – are being refused, or not considered for, overseas medical treatment, in defiance of doctors’ recommendations.

Three pregnant refugee women on Nauru have asked to terminate their pregnancies, for cultural, familial and health reasons. Doctors’ requests for them to be transferred overseas for the procedure have been rejected. Terminations are illegal on Nauru, a devoutly Christian country.

And Australian immigration department staff have confirmed to the Guardian that nearly 50 refugees and asylum seekers are on a waiting list for approval for medical transfer for a variety of conditions including musculoskeletal injuries and surgeries that cannot be performed on the island.

Staff on the island say the changed procedure is a political effort to obstruct medical transfers. The OMR committee meets irregularly, keeps little paperwork, repeatedly defers decisions and often cancels meetings.

 But island sources say, as well, the OMR committee has been placed in an invidious position in the case of terminations, essentially being asked to sign off a procedure overseas that is illegal in Nauru.

The three pregnant women have been recommended by doctors for transfer overseas for terminations this month but have been refused by the hospital OMR committee.

Politically, there is resistance from the Australian government to refugees and asylum seekers being brought to Australia for tertiary care.

Refugees and asylum seekers brought to Australia for medical treatment often exercise their rights before the courts, and seek injunctions preventing them from being returned. These are regularly granted by Australian courts.

A staff member on Nauru told the Guardian there was no reason – beyond political obstruction – to give the Nauru hospital OMR committee final authority over the transfer of asylum seekers and refugees to other countries for treatment.

“In the past, some women who went to Australia for terminations sought injunctions and are now living in community detention in Australia. Some others declined the termination once they reached Australia, secured an injunction and have since given birth to their child. Not all women did this, some returned to Nauru after their termination.

“The Australian Border Force needed another step in the process, to prevent women from travelling to Australia. Now that requests for terminations must be submitted to the OMR committee, it is guaranteed that approval will not be given. Women are being denied the right to end their pregnancy.”

The staff member said medical professionals on the island held deep concerns for the wellbeing of the pregnant women, and for anyone else who sought a termination in the future.

“These women already have significant mental health problems. Giving birth and raising a child in Nauru would only increase their mental health burden. I am concerned that these women will self-harm, attempt suicide, or attempt a home abortion.

“One of the women is now 15 weeks pregnant. For this woman, there is only five weeks left in which to end her pregnancy. This current policy … denies women the right to end their pregnancy. If things do not change, these women will unwillingly become mothers, if they do not kill themselves first.”

The staff member said the instruction to involve the Nauru hospital OMR committee in referral decisions was politically motivated.

“Terminations should be managed between IHMS and ABF. There is no reason to include the OMR committee and the Republic of Nauru hospital, other than to enforce Australia’s current policy that anyone who arrives by boat will not be settled in Australia.”

Nauru – a country of 10,000 people – has limited medical facilities and only one small hospital, recently upgraded with $12m of Australian aid money. Nauruan women facing complex deliveries are regularly flown to Australia, Fiji or Singapore to give birth.

Dr Paddy McLisky from Doctors for Refugees said the Australian immigration department had deliberately created a cumbersome, complex, and bureaucratic process for medical transfers, that appeared as though it was designed to fail.

“The epitome of this is referring termination of pregnancy to the OMR committee, when that procedure is illegal in Nauru. The committee is being put in an impossible position.

“It was completely forseeable that this process would create a frightening and potentially dangerous situation for women seeking termination of pregnancy.”
McLisky said the patients’ best interests were not being considered in sending termination referrals to the OMR, where they were almost certain to be rejected.

“Going through a termination of pregnancy is one of the most difficult situations of a woman’s life. It’s an incredibly difficult decision to make, and to have this referred off to a committee to decide, to have it discussed and evaluated by bureaucrats, security and travel staff, when it is something many people would prefer to keep quiet, is just inhumane.

“This is yet another example of medical care which is clearly not ‘broadly comparable’ with health services available in the Australian community, where abortion in early pregnancy is widely permitted.”

The Guardian put a series of questions regarding medical transfers to the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s media unit. A spokesman in response said: “these are matters for authorities in Nauru”.

Repeated calls to the Nauru government and Nauru hospital were not returned.

The Australian immigration department has consistently maintained that refugees held offshore enjoy access to healthcare “broadly comparable” to that in the Australian community.

Australia’s handling of pregnancies among the refugee and asylum seeker community on Nauru has often been controversial.

Earlier this year, a Kuwaiti refugee facing a complex birth was flown from Nauru to Australia late in her pregnancy after intense lobbying from doctors arguing that she faced a potential life-threatening delivery on Nauru. Five obstetricians in Australia, including the president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Michael Gannon, reviewed her case and said she should be immediately moved to a hospital with appropriate neonatal facilities.

Last year a Somali refugee and her newborn infant were medically evacuated from Nauru in a critical condition and placed on life support in a Brisbane hospital after she gave birth by caesarean on the island one month prematurely.

And in 2015, a government health contractor advertised on LinkedIn for a neonatologist to fly the very next day to Nauru to oversee a complex birth. The ad even invited doctors to nominate their salary for a week’s work. Doctors told the government the mother should be flown, with the baby in utero, to a tertiary hospital. The woman ultimately gave birth on Nauru.

The government’s policy around babies born to refugee women has led to an unusual legal sophistry.

Babies born in Australia to women moved from offshore detention are regarded by the department as “illegal maritime arrivals” to the country, despite having never been on a boat nor having left Australia.

Nearly 50 refugees and asylum seekers held on Nauru – including at least three women seeking to terminate a pregnancy – are being refused, or not considered for, overseas medical treatment, in defiance of doctors’ recommendations.

HONOURING VETERANS ACROSS COFFS HARBOUR REGION

Coffs Harbour soldiers who answered the call to fight in the Great War will be honoured as part of a moving artwork in the Anzac Memorial in Sydney’s Hyde Park.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro, Minister for Planning Anthony Roberts, Minister for Veterans Affairs David Elliott and Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser took a sample of soil from Griffith Cenotaph War Memorial Gardens today.

Soil samples are being collected from more than 1,600 sites across NSW where young soldiers enlisted to fight as part of the Anzac Memorial Centenary Soil Collection project.

Mr Barilaro said this project gave recognition to the actions of those men and women who helped define the national spirit and character of our country.

“Many Australian soldiers who enlisted to serve our country in World War I came from all over regional NSW and we want to make sure we are commemorating those country towns,” Mr Barilaro said.

“Regional Australian soldiers made an enormous contribution to the Anzac legacy,” Mr Roberts said.

Mr Elliott said collecting soil from the broad range of sites across the state is a reminder of the great sacrifices made by men and women in the Great War.

“A century on, we honour these men by taking a sample of soil and placing it in the Hall of Service at the refurbished Anzac Memorial so that it can be appreciated and commemorated by generations to come,” he said.

Mr Fraser said: “It is important to have the Deputy Premier and the Ministers here to recognise the contribution of locals to the Anzac legacy.”

The Anzac Memorial Centenary Project Soil Collection is part of the NSW Government’s upgrade of the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park during the Centenary of Anzac.

MEDIA: Georgina Kentwell | Deputy Premier | 0427 296 308

Norm Lipson | Minister Roberts | 0429 081 428