Christmas Island (Australia) + 3 more

'Tropical location' used to lure doctors to Christmas Island for refugee medical transfers

By political reporter Stephanie Borys

Key points:

  • Federal Government recruiting health professionals to deal with refugee medical evacuations
  • The Christmas Island job ads are promoting "tropical location" as a perk of shifting
  • The island's medical facilities are being upgraded to prevent bringing refugees to the mainland

The search is on to find a raft of medical experts to work on Christmas Island, as the Federal Government prepares to transfer asylum seekers from Manus Island and Nauru.

The ABC understands the Medevac bill, which passed Parliament in February, will get Royal assent early next week, leading the way for people to be moved.

In a sign the Federal Government is expecting a number of people to be transferred from offshore processing to Australia for medical reasons, a list of jobs are being advertised on Christmas Island by International Medical Health Services, which is contracted by the Government to provide care for people in immigration detention.

They range from a mental health nurse, to a psychologist, clinical psychologist and nurse radiographer, and most contracts say they are casual or temporary with an "ASAP start" or "available immediately" request.

In an attempt to entice people to apply for the jobs, a number of the advertisements list "tropical location" as one of the benefits.

The Government announced it was re-opening the Christmas Island detention centre after Parliament passed the Medevac Bill, which will allow asylum seekers on Manus Island or Nauru to come to Australia on the recommendation of two doctors.

Department of Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo told Senate Estimates last week that the Government intended to send medical transfers to Christmas Island, unless they needed specialised treatment that could only be provided on the mainland.

Limited health care available

Shire of Christmas Island chief executive David Price said the medical facilities on Christmas Island were limited and the local hospital had less than 10 beds and could not cope with an influx of people needing medical care.

"There's no surgery done on the island, there's no mental health experts on the island, no physiologists, physiatrists on the island," he said.

He said there are "serious limitations" as to what can be done on Christmas island, and even pregnant residents are required to leave to receive adequate care.

"Women have got to go off to give birth. It's quite disruptive. They've got to go a month before, down to Perth, or some people haven't got relatives in Perth so they go to Malaysia," he said.

Administrator of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Natasha Griggs met with the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton last week in Canberra to discuss the reopening of the detention centre and health care needs.

"I am working closely with the Australian Government, and the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities, to manage the impact of increased activity on Christmas Island," the former Liberal MP said in a statement.

"I have been advised that medical services on Christmas Island will be bolstered to cater for the health needs of any increased population."

MP demands more details

Independent MP Kerryn Phelps, who campaigned to get sick asylum seekers off Manus Island and Nauru, said it was a "positive first step" that the Government was boosting health services on Christmas Island.

But she has questioned how the care would be administered, because most of the jobs were listed as casual, temporary or on a flexible rotation.

"The quality of care in physiological care depends on continuity of care and so I will be interested to see how the Government solves that problem on the continuity of care if they are rotating physiological professionals through the island," she said.

The Home Affairs Department and the Immigration Minister David Coleman didn't respond to questions about how many medical professionals would be placed on the island, and if the positions have been filled.

Dr Phelps said she was concerned about how many asylum seekers may be transferred backwards and forwards between Christmas Island and the mainland.

She said she wanted the Prime Minister to be more transparent about how the system would work.

"I think it's very important that the Australian medical profession is consulted with the logistics and the profession is able to analyse the plan and give some input into whether the plan will work or not work," she said.

More frequent plane arrivals

Residents have also reported noticing new faces on Christmas Island as a sign the Government was preparing for the arrival of medical transfers from Manus Island and Nauru.

David Price said there had been an influx of staff from the Department of Home Affairs and SERCO, the company contracted by the Government to run the detention centre.

"We've seen around about 100 odd people come onto the island... there's planes coming in every other day now. SERCO has reinstigated its regular flight on the Thursday, so the numbers are starting to increase," he said.

Mr Price said while the Government may still be searching for medical experts, the detention centre itself appeared ready to go.

"It is out of hot contingency and now into operational mode," he said.

While asylum seekers on Manus Island were expected to arrive soon, there was some doubt over how many people would be transferred from Nauru.

The Nauruan Government recently passed laws making it harder for asylum seekers to be granted a medical transfer to Australia.


Australian Broadcasting Corporation