Federal Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is guilty of child abuse and should be reported to the Department of Child Protection, says the Australian Medical Association (AMA) of the Northern Territory.
The legality of making such a report is being investigated by the AMA, “not as a political stunt but as an important medical intervention”, said AMA NT’s president, paediatrician Paul Bauert.
The fact that a branch of the AMA is making this proposal signals just how awful Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is.
Two things are incontrovertible:
First, the Minister for Immigration is responsible for the welfare of child asylum seekers. The Immigration Act says
The Minister shall be the guardian of the person, and of the estate in Australia, of every non-citizen child who arrives in Australia after the commencement of this Act to the exclusion of the parents and every other guardian of the child, and shall have, as guardian, the same rights, powers, duties, obligations and liabilities as a natural guardian of the child would have, until the child reaches the age of 18 years or leaves Australia permanently, or until the provisions of this Act cease to apply to and in relation to the child, whichever first happens.
Second, the detention of child asylum seekers violates the rights of children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have a right to protection without discrimination (article 2); that the best interests of the child are the primary consideration in all actions taken with respect to the child (article 3); protection from any physical, mental or sexual abuse whilst the child is in the care of their parents, legal guardians or any other person responsible for the care of the child (article 19).
Given the almost unanimous opinion of medical doctors involved in this area that detention of already traumatised children magnifies their trauma it is difficult to conclude anything other than the Minister for Immigration, and a number of his predecessors, are subverting the best interests of refugee children.
Just today the Sydney Morning Herald reported that a number of children had been returned from detention on Nauru to Brisbane due to the risk of self harm and that over 400 child asylum seekers on Christmas Island are unable to go to school.
I don’t know if the NT AMAs investigation will result in charges being laid. What I do know is that the legal guardian of child asylum seekers is not protecting them or serving their best interests or ensuring they are safe from abuse. And that makes him an unfit guardian.
The legal responsibilities of the Minister seem clear enough with regard to guardianship. I would have thought the legal responsibilities attached to the role of guardian are matters on which the law would be reasonably well established and clear.
Interesting to see where this goes.