Federal Liberal MPs are demanding that refugee and asylum seeker children on Nauru be brought to Australia amid growing warnings about their plight.
Doctors are increasingly worried about the mental and physical health of about 80 children who have been on the Pacific island for up to five years.
Backbenchers Russell Broadbent and Craig Laundy last month asked Scott Morrison to evacuate all of the children and their families from Nauru.
The ABC understands the Government MPs proposed moving children with the most severe illnesses as a matter of priority before transferring other children.
Liberal Member for Chisholm, Julia Banks, also thinks the situation on Nauru has reached a “tipping point” and the Australian Government should change its approach.
The MPs told Mr Morrison the public mood had shifted regarding Australia’s offshore processing regime and a pragmatic solution was needed.
A well-placed source said Mr Morrison told the MPs in the meeting he was working on a solution.
In Parliament yesterday, the Prime Minister signalled that refugees could be transferred to New Zealand, if it could be guaranteed they could not later on travel to Australia.
The MPs’ intervention, first reported by News Corp Australia, increases pressure on the Morrison Government over the long-running issue.
The asylum seekers would only be in Australia temporarily — in detention or in the community on bridging visas — until they were resettled in another country, according to The Herald Sun.
The growing Liberal unease follows a concerted lobbying campaign by the Australian Medical Association (AMA), which has met with backbench MPs and told them about children’s suicide attempts.
AMA paediatric representative Paul Bauert, who met with around 30 MPs last month, is “delighted” with the move from the three Liberals urging the Prime Minister to take action.
“I just wish that more politicians who I have spoken to who have expressed concern about what’s going on with these children would be as brave and stand up and say enough is enough,” he told AM.
Dr Bauert is in Canberra again this week for more meetings with backbenchers where he will detail the cases, brought to his attention over the weekend, of two Iranian children aged 12 and 14 who have stopped eating.
“The two children I’m talking about have attempted, have spoken of, and are determined to suicide and would do so if they had the energy,” Dr Bauert said.
“The psychiatrist who looked after these children several weeks ago was concerned about putting the children on anti-depressants because there was the risk they would develop the strength and determination to get out of bed and commit suicide.”
Federal Labor’s leadership group last night pledged to make it easier for refugee and asylum seeker children on Nauru to be brought to Australia for medical treatment, if elected.
Shadow Cabinet last night endorsed a suite of measures, which will go before all Opposition MPs and Senators for approval on Tuesday.
Doctors’ advice would be given more weight in decision-making under the plan, and the Immigration Minister would make all decisions about medical transfers instead of the Home Affairs Department.
The Minister’s decisions would have to be made public, and if doctor’s advice was rejected, the Minister would need to consider another medical opinion.
“This won’t start the boats, but it will help sick children,” a Labor source said last night.
“This is about the children and the children only. Who would argue against this?”
The ALP source said the proposal would not allow children or their families to permanently settle in Australia.
The ABC understands the Opposition could try to implement the changes through a private members bill during this term of Parliament.
Dr Bauert said the children need to be taken off Nauru immediately and that Labor’s solution is too little, too late.
“I just do not think that’s practical. I’m deeply concerned about the health of these children and we cannot play around with this any further,” he said.
Nearly 6,000 doctors and medical students signed a petition that was delivered to Parliament House on Monday demanding the children be removed from the Pacific island because of serious mental and physical health concerns.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders last week called for the immediate evacuation of all asylum seekers and refugees from the island.
“Five years of indefinite limbo has led to a radical deterioration of their mental health and wellbeing,” the organisation’s Australian executive director Paul McPhun said.
The Prime Minister yesterday said decisions about medical transfers were made on a case-by-case basis, and defended the medical care provided on Nauru, which is about 3,000 kilometres from the Australian mainland.
“There are 65 health professionals contracted by the Australian Government to provide health services on Nauru, and that includes 33 mental health professionals,” Mr Morrison told Parliament.