Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has given strong hints a Somali refugee who says she was raped on Nauru and wants an abortion will be brought to Australia for the specialist treatment but has hit out at the public campaign supporting her request, saying it is of no help to her case.
And he stressed that any refugee flown to the mainland for medical treatment would never be allowed to permanently resettle in Australia, in accordance with the government’s tough border protection policies, aimed at stopping the boats.
But the minister also indicated the 23-year old woman, known as Abyan, was not yet in a condition to travel for her care. Abyan’s lawyers this week said she had lost 10 kilograms due to the trauma of being raped on Nauru and left pregnant with no word from the Australian government about whether her wish for a termination would be granted.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull refused to provide further details but a later media conference in Sydney said: “Her needs are very well understood by the government.”
Abyan wants to come to Australia for an abortion because terminations are illegal on Nauru. It is understood she also requires culturally sensitive medical treatment. But a deadline her lawyers set for the government at 5pm on Tuesday expired with no response.
Since then, an online petition, established by her Sydney based lawyer George Newhouse demanding action from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has amassed 55,000 signatures. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has also intervened, demanding mercy for Abyan and that her request be granted.
But the minister said on Friday the public pleas for action had had no effect on his decision making and that refugees are regularly flown to Papua New Guinea and Australia for treatment they cannot obtain on Nauru.
“My interest is in making sure that we do the right thing by the individual,” he told reporters at Parliament House.
“If people require medical assistance, they will receive it. Whether it is on Nauru or in Australia, they will receive it,” he said.
Mr Dutton said while he did not want to comment on Abyan’s individual case, there were instances where additional medical issues meant a refugee needing care was unable to fly for treatment.
“When the doctors advise us they can, they will then travel,” he said.
And he took aim at the online campaign in support of Abyan’s plea.
“No amount of campaigns, calls to my office, petitions, anything else will change my position in relation to that,” the minister said.
Abyan is one of two Somali women who say they were raped by Nauran men. The ABC’s 7.30 report last week broadcast distressing footage recorded by the other woman, Namjan (not her real name) which document her calls to police for help. They say it took the Nauruan authorities four hours to respond.
On Friday Mr Newhouse said Shine Lawyers were in communication with the Commonwealth government and not at liberty to say more than that at this stage. This is being seen as an important breakthrough because previously Mr Newhouse had complained of not receiving a response from the government.
Malcolm Turnbull a pull factor
The minister’s response came during a wide-ranging press conference he gave updating the situation in offshore detention camps and Operation Sovereign Borders.
Mr Dutton said the last attempted boat voyage carrying asylum seekers to Australia was made in August. The head of Operation Sovereign Borders Major-General Andrew Bottrell said the boat and its passengers were safely returned to Indonesia. The last successful boat journey was in June 2014.
General Bottrell and Mr Dutton said people smugglers in Indonesia were using the change of the Australian prime ministership from Tony Abbott, a social conservative, to Malcolm Turnbull, a social progressive, as an opportunity to reopen their trade.
“It is true that there is a lot of talk within Indonesia and other places, where people smugglers try to sell their product, that somehow a change in leadership here in Australia will result in an opportunity for people to arrive again on boats,” Mr Dutton confirmed.
“I want to reiterate today in the strongest possible terms that the resolve of the PM and myself, the whole of NSC [the National Security Committee], the whole of the cabinet and of the government is to make sure that we don’t allow deaths at sea to recommence,” he said.
There were no attempted or successful boat voyages in September, the month of the leadership change.
Composition of the detention centres hardening
The minister said that one of the effects of stopping the boats is that the population mix in the Christmas Island detention centre is “changing dramatically”.
“We have seen an increase in the number of visa cancellations, so the population within our detention centres, including on Christmas Island, has become hardened.”
“The population on Christmas Island detention centre will include increasingly people with significant criminal history. There is no question about that,” the minister said.
The Sydney Morning Herald