Let's get the refugees off Nauru
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Let's get the refugees off Nauru

Given there can now be no doubt Australia's off-shore detention policies have caused terrible harm to hundreds of individuals, including children, on Nauru and elsewhere, it is imperative those still on the island should be brought to Australia as soon as possible.

It is only here they will be able to access the very necessary, and in many cases tragically overdue, assistance they need to mend the damage inflicted on them in the Australian people's name.

The last, best, hope to do this before next year's election is the private members bill introduced into the parliament by Dr Kerryn Phelps on Monday.

The "Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill", which was also sponsored by Andrew Wilkie, Adam Bandt, Julia Banks and Rebekha Sharkie, would need the support of all of the crossbench, Labor and at least one government MP to pass the lower house.

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It calls for all remaining asylum seeker children to be brought to Australia immediately, citing medical concerns as the driving factor.

The bill would also require the urgent evacuation to Australia of any asylum seeker or refugee on Nauru or Manus Island who is either psychologically or physically ill, on the recommendation of two or more treating doctors.

"It is incredibly important we put this matter back in the hands of the medical profession and the government gets out of the way," Dr Phelps, the independent who claimed Wentworth from the Liberal Party in October, said.

The issue was fundamental in Dr Phelps's victory with recent polling indicating a majority of Australians are uncomfortable with the mandatory offshore detention policy. The Kids Off Nauru movement presented a petition signed by 170,000 people to Parliament late last month.

Dr Phelps's bill was introduced into the lower house on the same day Medicins Sans Frontiers released a damning report on mental health conditions on Nauru.

MSF doctors were recently ordered to leave the island by local authorities after treating 208 asylum seekers and refugees over an 11 month period. The medical team also provided mental health services to the island community.

MSF Australia executive director, Paul McPhun, said the asylum seekers were at the bottom end of the scale it uses to assess mental health. "It's far worse than we see often in projects where we're treating victims of torture," he said.

While almost half of the Nauruan locals who were treated responded positively to treatment, only 11 per cent of asylum seeker and refugee patients demonstrated a similar outcome. At least a dozen detainees were diagnosed with resignation syndrome.

Australia's ethical position on this policy, which currently has bi-partisan support, is terrible. We have shown we are willing to commit abuse that has been likened to torture in order to protect what some perceive as our national interest.

Given, if Wentworth is anything to go by, refugee policy appears likely to emerge as an election issue, it would be wise for both the ALP and the Coalition to revisit their positions.

With the Government already having said it would like to have all the children off Nauru by the end of the year Dr Phelps's bill offers a unique opportunity to right wrongs that have been allowed to continue in this country's name for too long.

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