Firstly I think we should give RACS a huge round of applause to say thank you for their ongoing commitment and energy in rallying us all together and continuing to help inform the Australian public about what is really happening in Australia’s detention centres.
There is no doubt that we are witnessing a rise in right wing politics and a level of hostility in the west. We only have to look at what has happened in the UK over the last few days to know that, the vote to leave the EU was based on racism and an intolerance to migrants entering Britain. When we look to the US we see the growing attraction towards Donald Trump. Despite this, there is no other country in the world that mandatory detains children indefinitely.
I stand here today proud to be a nurse, but at the same time I am ashamed. Ashamed of what is happening to innocent children and their families in our name.
As I stand here today I am thinking of the children and families that are still being held in Nauru offshore processing centre.
I think of the 6 year old girl that had marks around her neck where she had tried to hang and kill herself with fence ties. I have two children aged 6 & 7 years old and they wouldn’t even know what it means to try and put fence ties around their necks to kill themselves.
I think of the 15 year old boy that had sewn up his lips in desperation. He clung to me as I encouraged him to try and stay strong and promised him I would do all I could to help him once I got back to Australia.
I think of the mother that wept on my shoulder as she told me she had been raped. She couldn’t even share this with her husband because of the shame.
I think of the father that was physically assaulted in front of me, inside the medical centre where Professor David Isaacs and I were treating his baby for Typhoid. This is supposed to be a place of safety, a place where people come to access help not to be abused.
I think of the mother that had been menstruating for two months and was using material from her tent to hold the bleeding, because she didn’t have access to sanitary products. One night she braved the long walk across the camp to try and clean herself. A blood clot fell from her as she walked passed a desk of male guards and a trail of blood followed her as she tried to reach the toilet.
I think of the mother’s that had to wash themselves and their babies in showers with no doors on. All that covered the door was a flimsy curtain, whilst male guards sat 7-10 meters away and could see their naked bodies.
I think of the mother I met that was bed wetting, because she was too frightened to walk 100 meters across the camp to use the toilet at night.
I remember the children that shook my hand and introduced themselves to me by a number and not their name.
And the 7 year old girl that looked into my eyes and begged me to put her face on the internet and show the world what was happening to her.
Last week I attended an award ceremony where Mike Baird our Premier was giving out the awards. I was told I would not be allowed to say thank you for the award in which he was presenting me with. I decided I would not be silenced on something so important, so when I stepped onto the stage I asked Mr Baird a reduced version of my prepared speech:
In July last year the Liberal party introduced the Australian Border Force Act. It is now a crime for any person working in Australia’s detention centres to disclose publically any information relating to what they saw or experienced there.
For nurses like myself and my medical colleagues this has huge implications. It is mandatory for any nurse or doctor to report abuse they may have witnessed in an Australian run medical facility. This rule however, doesn’t apply when working in Australia’s detention system. This conflict’s with every health care professional’s code of conduct and the duty of care they have for the patients.
There lies the irony in me receiving this award today. My Baird you are kindly giving up your time to honour me with this award. But, it is the party of which you are a member that could suggest I be prosecuted and jailed for up to two years for doing my job and telling the truth.
I was brought up on the philosophy that honesty is the best policy.
So, I have three requests that I would like you take away and consider today:
Number 1 – Professor David Isaacs and I are the last health care professionals to speak publically about the conditions and the health of the children we saw on Nauru. Noone else has spoken out about the healthcare on Nauru in the last 16 months. If the Liberal party are not going to prosecute us then we ask that the Act is revoked. If the act is there to stay, then when are we going to see you in court?
Number 2 – When you enter your office tomorrow, I ask that you show courage and leadership by telephoning the other members of your party and state that you don’t support the Liberal National or the Australian Labour party’s policy of offshore processing or boat turn backs. They may not be dying in Australian waters, but that does not mean they are not dying in someone else’s.
And my last request, the most important of all. In the words of my 6 year old son – he said to me before Malcolm Turnbull became leader “mummy just go and get the key from Tony Abbot’s pocket, unlock the gate and let the children out”. And it really is that simple Mr Baird and Mr Turnbull. It doesn’t take over 3 years to process an asylum application.
The average stay for a child in detention in the UK is 5 days. The EU have a rule that no child should spend longer than 7 days in detention. In Australia we have an average of 3 years now.
This is Australia’s Guantanamo and our national shame. My last and final request from you today Mr Baird is to do the right thing, get that key, unlock that gate, put those children and their families on a plane to Australia and process them in the Australian community.
Do you know what Mr Baird’s reponse to me was? “It is not up to me”! Well Mr Baird you are wrong, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us. You have influence of power and if you really believed in compassion for refugees like you told us that day in your speech, you could not possibly belong to a party that sees children tortured. Put your money where your mouth is and walk.
People in our community ask me “what can we do make a change”. Well I’m going to tell you what we can do, we can educate our young. Post World War II, Germany made it mandatory to educate every child about xenophobia, compassion and the right to seek asylum and what we are witnessing in that country is a whole new wave of politicians and a welcoming people. I ask for you to do the same with the children in our communities. Educate our young, If Germany can turn it around then so can we.