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

Mercury (Hobart) - - TALKING POINT -

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

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