Chilling film bears witness to nation’s failing on asylum seekers
Doctors play heroic role in Australian saga captured by Tassie filmmaker, says Greg Barns
THE cruelty inflicted on asylum seekers by successive Australian governments since John Howard’s infamous Tampa incident in 2001 will not be forgotten when historians reflect in the decades to come on this nation’s past. And when they go looking for evidence of Australia’s inhumanity to vulnerable people fleeing dispossession, poverty and violence one of the primary sources will be filmmaker Heather Kirkpatrick’s Against Our Oath, a remarkable documentary made over four years and dealing with the heroic role of the medical profession in fighting to ensure those we detain in the gulags of Nauru and Manus Island can come to Australia to receive proper health care.
Ms Kirkpatrick’s film is highly relevant in the context of the authoritarian Morrison regime’s desire to repeal the Medevac legislation which, in part, stops politicians literally deciding whether someone lives or dies.
Against our Oath reminds us of the chilling episode in 2016 when the federal government sought to bully and intimidate medical professionals at a Brisbane hospital as they cared for the desperately ill baby Asha, a captive of the Australian Government on Nauru. In scenes that one expects in authoritarian societies, the federal government demanded the Lady Cilento Hospital in Brisbane discharge Asha back to Nauru after her treatment. The doctors rightly refused this bullying and the Hospital’s Ethics Committee said that to accede the request of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and his loathsome bureaucracy would be ethically untenable. Doctors have a duty not to harm and sending a child back to the gulag of Nauru was clearly life threatening.
And then there is the extraordinary border protection legislation of 2015 — supported by the ALP, which is as culpable as the Coalition for this cruel regime — that made it a criminal offence for doctors and other health professionals to talk publicly about the horrors they witnessed at Manus and Nauru. At the same time we are reminded of the dreadful delay in ensuring that Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Khazaie could get to Brisbane from Manus Island for treatment. He died and the Queensland Coroner Terry Ryan said in his 2018 findings that despite doctors on Manus Island saying his transfer to Australia was “very urgent” an Immigration Department official delayed the request and then sent it to his superior, who did not read it for 24 hours. That says much about the lack of value placed on human life in Mr Dutton’s department.
One wonders whether those doctors who are members of federal Parliament have watched or intend to watch Against our Oath? Katie Allen, Liberal MP for Higgins and a leading paediatrics doctor in Melbourne, voted to repeal the medevac law recently.
As Jennifer Wilson reported on Independent Australia site on July 30, four medical and health professionals who are MPs voted down a law that