Thursday, May 24, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Death on Manus
Doctors say mental health care on the island is basically non-existent


It is hard to know what to say about the apparent suicide of Rohingya refugee Salim Kyawning on Tuesday, except to mark the passing of the 14th person to die in one of Australia’s offshore detention centres, and to observe that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton must bear some responsibility for this. Dutton reneged on a promise to the Australian Medical Association in November to enhance health provision on Manus, and his department refused to provide this man appropriate treatment, despite having ample knowledge of his serious illness.

The government’s response to the death of another asylum seeker appears to have been to smear the dead man in a drop to The Australian, and to neglect to contact his grieving family.

At the end of November, following the closure of the Manus Island regional processing centre, AMA president Dr Michael Gannon announced that Peter Dutton had declined to facilitate a visit by independent medical experts to assess the health and wellbeing of the men on Manus. However, Gannon also announced that the minister had “promised the AMA that he would act immediately to activate enhancements to the healthcare services” there. Dutton had also apparently asked his department to fast-track the replacement of the chief medical officer position, vacated by Dr John Brayley. Neither thing has happened, refugee advocates say.

Instead, at the end of April, the government’s contract with International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) lapsed, prompting Amnesty International to warn of an impending refugee health crisis.

The hundreds of asylum seekers on Manus Island are now reliant on local medical facilities that are barely adequate to cope with the local population. There are no facilities for mental health provision on Manus, according to Dr Nick Martin, who was a senior medical officer for IHMS in Nauru until last year. (He left after being told his safety could no longer be guaranteed, as he had begun to speak out about the refugees’ plight.) Now practising as a GP in New South Wales, Dr Martin said the longer the asylum seekers stayed on Manus, the more mental health problems there would be, as more people suffered from “detention fatigue”. He said Minister Dutton had a duty of care to the asylum seekers on Manus and “having promised they would increase mental health care provision, there’s now none”.

According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Salim Kyawning had been detained for five years and had been found to be a refugee by the Australian government. He had severe epilepsy – some fits lasting two hours – and suffered from mental illness. He was brought to Australia for treatment in 2015 but, according to the ASRC, the treatment was rushed and he was sent back unwell. ASRC chief Kon Karapanagiotidis saw Kyawning in November – he was bedridden, with no access to medicine or medical treatment. Initial reports in The Guardian were that an unnamed Rohingya man died in a motor vehicle accident on Tuesday. But within hours The Australian had identified Kyawning, without regard to the consequences for his family, reported details of an apparent suicide by jumping from a moving bus, and described [$] him as “a troubled and aggressive man who had more than 60 incidents logged with authorities”.

Karapanagiotidis asks: “Where did The Australian get that private information? Given it was so specific, the only place it could have come from is the Department of Home Affairs. Who authorised that? These are the questions the media should be asking. How is this possible? It’s pretty damning.” Karapanagiotidis declined to comment on the facts in the story: “It’s not even a conversation for us to be having. Can you picture any other situation, if a detainee had died, where the first newspaper story that appears is a smear piece, whose purpose was to distract people?”

Some 29 hours after Kyawning’s death, an ASRC staff member contacted Kyawning’s wife (in an unspecified third country) and was shocked to find that she was unaware of his death – the Department of Home Affairs still had not contacted her. Karapanagiotidis says Kyawning should never have been on Manus at all: “He had survived attempted genocide by the Myanmar government, only to die at the hands of the Australian government.” According to ASRC, he was the seventh person to die on Manus Island, the third by suicide. “We have a massive mental health and medical crisis,” Karapanagiotidis says. “These men need to be evacuated to Australia”. He said compensation should be paid to Kyawning’s family, but predicted: “We’ll have to fight for him to be given a burial.”

Episode 16: Lest we forget our sponsors
Join Richard Denniss and special guest ANU professor Frank Bongiorno for a discussion of the cultural and historical reasons we remember war in the way we do.


since this morning

Five by-elections will be held on July 28 in Perth, Fremantle, Mayo, Longman and Braddon. Prospective candidates will be asked to declare their family history and other personal details to the AEC under new measures that aim to avoid problems with citizenship. This is the same date as the Labor Party’s national conference, and Labor’s deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, has called the timing a “disgraceful delay and a sneaky tactic”.

The former head of the Victorian division of the Property Council of Australia, Sally Capp, has been sworn in [$] as Melbourne’s first directly elected female lord mayor.

Doctors on Nauru have pleaded with the Australian Border Force to remove a terminally ill Afghan asylum seeker from the island for palliative care. The Guardian reports that, despite being recognised as a refugee, the man has previously been told by the Department of Home Affairs that he should abandon his protection claim.

Queensland Liberal National Party senator Ian Macdonald has argued that a race discrimination commissioner is not required, because racism is “very difficult to find” in Australia. The federal government is currently recruiting for a new race discrimination commissioner, with the term of the current commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, expiring later this year.

in case you missed it

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has pointed to the build-up of debt and bad loans in China as one of the biggest risks facing the Australian economy, noting that similar situations in the past have led to a slowdown in growth or a financial crisis.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has revealed the full cost of the government’s personal income tax cut package, setting the scene for a showdown in the Senate when Labor attempts to sever the final phase of cuts, which is estimated to cost $40 billion.

by Bronwyn Adcock
The Nation Reviewed
The Captain Cook connection
One man’s campaign to have Gweagal artefacts returned to Australia

by Richard Denniss
Canberra needs a watchdog
Who is keeping an eye on our federal politicians?

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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