March 05, 2019
Local council unaware of PM’s trip but hopes residents will be able to access medical services contracted for refugees
Scott Morrison denies his trip to Christmas Island is a photo opportunity. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP
By HELEN DAVIDSON, The Guardian
Scott Morrison is due to visit Christmas Island on Wednesday, ahead of the reopening of the immigration detention centre he says is needed to deal with the result of medical evacuations from Manus Island and Nauru.
Late on Tuesday the visit was in some doubt because of a monsoon warning for the island. The chief executive of the island’s council also said he had not been told of any visit plans, but hoped that residents would be able to access the extra health services contracted to treat refugees and asylum seekers.
New laws came into effect last week which set up a process for sick asylum seekers and refugees in offshore processing to get treatment in Australia.
But federal MPs accused the government of defying the intention of the bill when it was revealed the transfer policy would send people to Christmas Island first, and only on to the mainland if they needed more extensive treatment.
Christmas Island has limited medical facilities, and residents routinely fly to mainland Australia for a range of care, from eye tests to childbirth, to serious concussions.
A week ago the government’s health contractor for its offshore immigration system, IHMS, began advertising for positions on Christmas Island, including mental health workers, social workers and administration staff.
Some advertised an immediate start and rotations of six to 12 weeks, and one advertisement for a senior medical officer called for an “ASAP start til December 2019”.
The chief executive of the Christmas Island council, David Price, told Guardian Australia the council hoped to meet Morrison on Wednesday, but they had not had any confirmation of the visit.
“We’d also be hopeful that should they … facilitate the transition of people from Manus and Nauru that the additional services are available to the islanders and remain here once the demand ceases,” Price said.
“We don’t accept that there should be an increase in medical facilities which are not available to the islanders in the immediate and [long-term] future.”
Asked what mental health services were available for residents on the island, Price said: “None. If people need specialist treatment for mental reasons they go to mainland Australia.
“On the two weekly flights [to the mainland] there’d be anywhere between four and six people going to medical treatment every week. That’s outside of the emergency airvacs out of here.
“I’m not saying the service here isn’t good, but it’s a small regional service.”
Price said the detention centre was in operation again, but had no one inside it. He accused the government of reopening it for political purposes.
On Tuesday Morrison denied the trip was a photo opportunity, and said it was “incredibly regrettable” the detention centre was being reopened.
“We will be making sure that the arrangements are in place – as indeed they are, as I understand it this week – to stand up that facility to deal with any transfers that may arise,” he told reporters in Canberra.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has estimated a handful of transfer applications, from the 70 or so expected to lodge them, would come through in the next week or so. No applications through non-government avenues have been lodged yet.
In widely criticised comments, backed by Morrison, the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, said the medical transfers would “displace” Australians from their own treatment.
Dr Kerryn Phelps, the recently elected independent MP for Wentworth, who was a key architect of the bill, rubbished the claims as a scare campaign, saying the more than 1,300 hospitals in Australia with about 94,000 beds “can easily cope with 70 extra patients”.