Federal Politics

'Incredible victory' as Peter Dutton says community detention for baby Asha

Some of the key supporters of the campaign to keep an asylum seeker baby from being taken to Nauru are celebrating what they term an "incredible victory" as the Queensland premier hits out at the federal government over the issue.

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Baby Asha moving to community detention

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed Baby Asha and her family will not be returned to Nauru, rather placed in community detention in Australia. Courtesy ABC News 24.

They'll seek an "iron-clad guarantee" from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton that the one-year-old girl known as "Asha" "won't be ripped out of community detention and sent back to Nauru".

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk weighed in on the case again on Sunday, saying the federal government decision to allow Asha to go into community detention was "too slow and lacked empathy".

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

"The fact it took a hospitalised baby girl, hundreds of people from across our community taking a principled stand in front of the hospital and expressions of disappointment from thousands more to finally move Immigration Minister Peter Dutton speaks volumes about his lack of character and compassion," she said in a statement.

"A fortnight ago, I wrote to the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about the plight of up to 50 asylum seekers currently in Queensland that faced a return to Nauru following the determination of the High Court."

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She repeated the offer of housing, health, education and welfare support from the state for the refugees.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Dutton said the baby girl would be taken from the Lady Cilento Children's Hospital, where protesters have been camped for more than a week, and placed in community detention but did not rule out an eventual return to Nauru.

Family advocate Natasha Blucher, GetUp! campaigner Ellen Roberts and Queensland Council of Unions general secretary Ros ...
Family advocate Natasha Blucher, GetUp! campaigner Ellen Roberts and Queensland Council of Unions general secretary Ros McLennan speaks to media outside the Lady Cilento Children's Hospital about the campaign to keep baby Asha from being sent back to Nauru. Photo: Jorge Branco

Doctors had held baby Asha in the hospital until "a suitable home environment" could be identified.

Mr Dutton said the girl and her family would still be subject to normal refugee processing and a spokesman confirmed they would not be settled in Australia.

Scotia Monkivitch was one of about 50 protesters still at the vigil for baby Asha at Brisbane's Lady Cilento Hospital on ...
Scotia Monkivitch was one of about 50 protesters still at the vigil for baby Asha at Brisbane's Lady Cilento Hospital on Sunday morning. Photo: Cameron Atfield

The immigration minister said community detention had been the plan for Asha from the start, despite apparent statement to the contrary to 4BC on Thursday.

"If people have received medical assistance and the assistance is no longer required, if they've recovered from their medical condition, then they'll be returned to Nauru," he told the station, when asked about baby Asha.

President of the Australian Medical Association, Brian Owler, addresses the media on Sunday.
President of the Australian Medical Association, Brian Owler, addresses the media on Sunday. Photo: Deborah Snow

"We'll have a look at each case and go through the individual circumstances and we'll have a look compassionately at individual cases."

But GetUp! campaigner Ellen Roberts said the protests, which saw several hundred people flock to the hospital on Saturday as deportation fears grew, had changed the national conversation on refugees.

Baby Asha's case captured attention from around Australia and overseas.
Baby Asha's case captured attention from around Australia and overseas.  Photo: Supplied

Queensland Council of Unions general secretary Ros McLennan celebrated a "backflip of Olympic proportions".

Natasha Blucher, who had been advocating for the family, promised to continue the fight for the same outcome for the remaining 266 asylum seekers in Australia for medical treatment.

Mr Dutton had earlier accused activists of "hijacking" the debate for their own purposes.

On Sunday afternoon, Children's Health Queensland confirmed Asha would be moved to a community dwelling "within the next 24 hours".

"The Department further advised that there is no imminent plan for the family to return to Nauru and the family's case is under consideration," a spokesman said in a statement.

EARLIER

An Asylum seeker baby at the centre of a national protest will be moved to community detention in Australia rather than sent to Nauru, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton confirmed speculation on Sunday that the 12-month-old, who has been receiving medical attention for a month at Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane, would be released into community detention but did not rule out an eventual return to Nauru. 

Doctors at the hospital were refusing to release the girl, known as "Asha", until "a suitable home environment is identified".

Protesters have been camped outside around the clock since last Friday.

Mr Dutton said on Sunday doctors had agreed to release the baby and her mother into community detention but their asylum claims would still be subject to the normal processing. They would not be allowed to settle in Australia, a spokesman confirmed.

President of the Australian Medical Association, Professor Brian Owler, welcomed the decision on Baby Asha but said it did not go nearly far enough.

'It's just extraordinary that the minister has to be dragged kicking and screaming to a point to allow a baby to stay in Australia, to not be taken out of a hospital. You can blame everyone else, the AMA and other people for raising the issues but clearly anyone can see that that was the right thing to do in the first place" he told Fairfax Media. 

"It's welcome, obviously we did not want Baby Asha to go to Nauru, but the issue is the other children that are still on Nauru and the 80 children that are here in Australia that are still left up in the air."

Mr Dutton on Sunday said Baby Asha would leave Lady Cilento and go into community detention, along with 83 others who were already living in the community.

"So it will be a continuation of that policy," he said.

"The government's position is perfectly clear and that is at some point, if they don't have a protection claim, then they will be returned to their country of origin or back to Nauru and we're not going to renege on that position. 

"We've been very firm in relation to it and it's been part of the reason that we've been able to stop boats."

Mr Dutton said a move to community detention had been the plan all along and accused activists of "hijacking" the debate for their own purposes.

He was not able to point to a time when the department had said they intended to move the one-year-old to community detention.

"Doctors from the hospital said the baby's treatment has now concluded and that they would be happy for the baby to go out into community detention," he said.

"As I say, that's what we've proposed all along but at some point, if people have matters finalised in Australia, then they will be returning to Nauru."

When asked what had caused the doctors to change their minds, Mr Dutton said: "I understand there are some pressures at the hospital in terms bed space".

He did not provide a timeline for when Asha and her family would be moved or where she would be moved to.

Mr Dutton's announcement came after AMA president Brian Owler issued a passionate call to the medical profession to resist government plans to return asylum-seeker children to Nauru.

"There are times, in any nation, where the medical profession must act in the interests not only of our patients ... but act in the national interest," he said addressing around 350 senior doctors and health workers in Sydney.

He said there should be an immediate release of all children from both offshore and onshore detention centres and a moratorium on such children being sent back to the centres. He also wants an independent authority set up to monitor the health status and treatment of refugees.

Professor Owler said he was unsure of what had transpired between Mr Shorten and Mr Turnbull but that "I would hope that the Prime Minister of the country would realise  the importance and significance if a situation were to develop where they would allow the Department of Immigration and Border Security to have private security guards come into a hospital against the advice of doctors and nurses and forcibly remove a patient."

"Obviously that didn't happen, I'm glad it didn't .. but I want to make sure it doesn't happen in the future as well.'

Professor Owler said that forcibly removing patients from hospital is a "line that cannot not be crossed." 

Protesters remained outside the LCCH on Sunday, although in much smaller numbers than seen on Saturday night when fears spread the baby's deportation could be imminent.

Mr Dutton accused some activists of running their own agenda rather than having the baby's best interests at heart.

In a statement released Sunday, Children's Health Queensland chief executive Fionnagh Dougan said baby Asha would be discharged within 24 hours after the Department of Immigration and Border Protection advised the child and her family would be moved to a community dwelling.

"The Department further advised that there is no imminent plan for the family to return to Nauru and the family's case is under consideration," the statement says.

"The child was treated for burns sustained in the Nauru Detention Centre and has recovered well.

"In recent days, the child and her mother moved to family accommodation within the hospital because the patient no longer required treatment in the burns unit." 

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