VIRGINIA TRIOLI: It's been one week now since the scheduled date for the closure of the Manus Island Detention Centre. But there's around 600 men still there, refusing to move. Local lawyers for the detainees have sought an injunction from PNG Supreme Court which would compel the Government to reconnect services and to provide food and security for them.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: The Australian Medical Association says it has grave concerns about the health and wellbeing of those on Manus, and AMA President, Dr Michael Gannon, joins us from Perth now. It's very early over there so really appreciate your time. Michael Gannon, firstly, what are you hearing from the doctors on the ground there about the medical condition of these men?
MICHAEL GANNON: Well, we're not hearing a great deal from doctors and it's very, very difficult to get a true picture of what is going on. What we've been calling for, for some time now, is transparency about the arrangements for these men. We had something along those lines previously, had a good relationship with Dr John Brayley, the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, that's one of the things we're calling for is a better idea of exactly what is going on.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: So what fears do you have if, as we're learning ourselves and we ourselves are only relying on very scant information because of the information controls on the island, if those men are forced to stay or stay by their own choice in this detention centre now without power, food, and water supplies?
MICHAEL GANNON: Well, we're concerned about both physical and mental aspects of the health of these wretched souls who are stuck in a bigger political game. They have great uncertainty in their lives, they have done for years, and we're hearing unverified reports about reduced access to medication. Some medications as you know need to be refrigerated. We hear different reports about the quality of what's available in the alternative accommodations being set up elsewhere on the island.
What we want is independent verification of the living standards of these men. That's the only thing that doctors can possibly call for, is appropriate health care standards for a group of people who, although they're not Australian citizens, are entitled to protection under Australian law.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: But there has been a private company set up and the Government insists it is ready to provide both primary health care and primary mental health care to these men at this alternative detention centre away from the current one. So shouldn't it be the case of the detainees simply going to that new one?
MICHAEL GANNON: Well, I think what we need is an independent look at the truth of what is going on, and I think that the secrecy doesn't assist the Government's case. If it is the case that appropriate facilities are available elsewhere on the island to take care of the mental and physical health needs of these men while they await resettlement - whether that's under the program agreed with the United States or elsewhere in the world - let's see it. If that means that a group of independent experts, medical professionals, other professionals from Australia, can verify this, well then that is in the interests of the Government to reveal that to the Australian people.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now, aside from potential physical injuries, Michael Gannon, what are the possible long-term mental health consequences for these men?
MICHAEL GANNON: Well, these men have often left very trying circumstances in their country of origin. They haven't necessarily had a particularly easy journey and, of course, for many of them, they've been languishing in less than ideal conditions for a period of time.
The most important thing these men need is certainty in their lives. And we just don't know exactly what's going on on Manus Island. Some of the claims by refugee advocates cannot be verified. Some of the claims by Government cannot be verified. We ask, like we have been asking for for many years now, an independent authority that can look at the health care standards of this individual group of men, of the men, women, and children on Nauru, and any unfortunate souls who find themselves in this situation again.
Transparency is in the interests of the Government. Even if the Australian people support offshore detention, which they're said to do, a great majority of Australians are uncomfortable with the prospect that people who should enjoy our legal protection are not being afforded the appropriate standard of care.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, AMA President Michael Gannon, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
MICHAEL GANNON: Pleasure, Michael.
7 November 2017
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