Border Force silent on PNG crackdown
The Australian Border Force has been accused of a “heavyhanded’’ crackdown on Papua New Guineans receiving medical treatment in far north Queensland after a grandmother was detained and guards assigned to a maternity unit.
Doctors and Queensland Health officials have written to the ABF over a suspected change in policy to PNG nationals receiving emergency medical treatment after arriving on Australian islands in the Torres Strait.
It follows the ongoing detention in Brisbane of a woman, 55, who underwent surgery for acute appendicitis in Cairns after seeking help in February on the island of Saibai.
Another PNG woman, who was flown from Boigu to Townsville for an emergency delivery, was later placed under guard with her newborn before being returned to the Torres Strait and then to mainland PNG.
PNG nationals who seek help at a medical facility in the Torres Strait are treated according to need — including transfers to Queensland hospitals — before usually being returned to the islands at the expense of Queensland Health.
Doctors and other health professionals in the region have accused the ABF of moving to overturn a system that has been in place for decades.
Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Board chairman Bob McCarthy said doctors feared patients would automatically be put in detention if they were sent to mainland hospitals for treatment.
“The system has been working for well over 20 years and now we have this unannounced change in policy which is creating issues for us and our patients,’’ he said.
“Doctors are placed in conflict in the sense, do they deal with a patient on the island or refer them and run the risk of them being placed in custody?
“They should be able to feel quite free to send the patients where they get the best treatment.’’
Mr McCarthy said one of three pregnant PNG women — sent to the Townsville hospital to give birth in recent months — was placed under guard with her newborn until she was returned to the Torres Strait.
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles questioned why the woman — who has repeatedly sought to return to PNG — was being detained.
“Queensland Health and the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service are eager to return her to her home as would usually be the case,’’ he said.
“I cannot see why Border Force would need to detain her for this length of time.’’
A spokesman for Border Force last night did not comment on claims of a region-wide crackdown on PNG nationals seeking medical help in the Torres Strait.
The spokesman said the woman, detained since she was discharged on February 28, was flown to Brisbane for medical reasons. “After surgical treatment in Cairns and discharge from hospital, this individual required further medical care,’’ he said.
“It was deemed this care could be best provided in Brisbane.
“Arrangements are being made for her return to PNG.’’