Australian Politics International Nah… The Government Wouldn’t Do That!

The Immigration Health Advisory Group (IHAG) Has been Sacked

The Abbott government have sacked the Immigration Health Advisory Group (IHAG). Established in 2006, the group has functioned to provide independent advice on the health needs of asylum seekers.

The Federal Liberal Abbott government intends to create its own ‘advisory panel,’ to be headed by Dr Alexander, who is already the current chair and was not sacked along with his work colleges. Dr Alexander is an Australian Defence Force medical expert, who IHAG members say ‘has little mental health experience.’

Professor Louise Newman, a current member and former chair of IHAG, says she was blindsided by the news.

“The group was informed on Friday that it has actually been disbanded, which is of course an issue of grave concern to the medical and health professionals involved,” she said.

“We’re certainly concerned that there’s currently no formal independent process of reviewing or oversight of the situation within detention.”

Professor Newman says the group, formed in 2006 after recommendations made in the Palmer and Comrie Inquiries, consists of expert medical professionals, psychiatrists, psychologists and GPs, as well as advocates and officials.

‘It’s extremely concerning when we have many major people within the health and mental health professions, who are experts in their areas, being advised that our advice is not necessary or needed.’

“From our perspective, we are in a situation of significant risk in terms of health and mental health, given the nature of current policy.”

Associate Professor Amanda Gordon, the Australian Psychological Society’s representative to IHAG, says the Government appears to have been planning for some time to disband the group.

“We are very concerned that people’s mental health needs will be completely unattended to and no one will look after them,” she said.

“In fact they are being only cared for in terms of security and that they are individuals human beings who are going to be pawns to Government policy.”

Professor Gordon notes that recent meetings have been cancelled and subgroups have already been abolished.

Professor Gordon also relates that Dr Alexander does not have enough experience in mental health to provide the Government with advice.

“I guess I’m concerned that Dr Alexander doesn’t have a background in mental health at all,” Associate Professor Gordon said.

Labor immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, says the abolition of IHAG is an extraordinary move, that appears to be riding on the back of the recent and damning report from Amnesty, on the condition at the Manus Island detention centre.

“This is an inopportune time to disband the detention health advisory group at this moment, because this is one of the mechanisms by which governments can ensure that appropriate standards are maintained,” he said.

Acting immigration minister, Scott Morrison, told the ABC that, IHAG reports to the Immigration Department’s secretary anyway.

“The secretary ensures that he has appropriate, professional advice to assist the department with their responsibilities in this important area,” he said in a statement.

“The ongoing role of the IHAG is a matter for the secretary of the department, who has my full confidence to determine such matters.

“The proper care and treatment of people within the detention network is of utmost importance to the Government and my department.”

What the federal Liberals are missing, is that it falls to them, the duty of care to protect some of the worlds most vulnerable people, falls to them. A person with triage skills, is not the same as a person with psychiatric or psychology skills that are required to assist these people in need. People whose Psychiatric problems range from the dire: self-harm, suicide, rape and murder, to the anxiety and panic of escaping one country to seek asylum in a country that used to have a big heart and now find themselves locked away like criminals.

The Federal Liberals may smile and laugh, as Mr Abbott did when he announced that Toyota won’t get any money either, about some asylum seekers deciding to go back to where they have escaped from. Yet they do not make this decision because the federal Liberals ‘Sovereign Borders’ is working, they make the decision, because they realise that risking their lives in returning to a place they have escaped from, is a better option than spending their lives in Australias Guantanamo. In short, they would choose death over the Abbott government asylum seeker activities and this is not something to rejoice over.

The Palmer and Comrie Inquiries were implemented under the Howard government and were tabled in Parliament on 6 October 2005.

Australia, after 14 weeks of an Abbott government, is so off the UN council.

Such great strides had been made for Australia, nationally and internationally. It began with the Howard government and Labor exploded Australias goodwill onto the world stage. Such a prominent name was achieved and Australia sat proudly amongst other humanitarian countries. For Australia under labor to receive such a converted seat on the UN security council, only to have the Abbott government throw out Australias good name, its humanitarianism towards the most vulnerable, is a dire day indeed.

This is another shameful day for Australia. By the time the next election comes around, there will not be an Australia left to vote for. They have even dumped the Salvation Armies role in supporting asylum seekers on Nauru, Manus Island. I actually feel physically sick after waking to this news this morning.

The Federal Government has dumped the Salvation Army as a long-term partner in providing services in offshore processing centres.

The Salvos say their contract to provide “emotional support, humanitarian assistance and general education and recreation programs” to asylum seekers in detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island will not be renewed beyond February.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says the Government has been forced to make contract changes, because of the way the system was being administered by the former Labor government.

Morrison of course, has refused to confirm the details.



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