The Australian Medical Association has criticised the federal government over its policy of mandatory detention for all asylum seekers.
“The AMA believes that the system of mandatory detention of asylum seekers is inherently harmful to the physical and mental health of detainees,” association president Steve Hambleton told the AMA parliamentary dinner in Canberra on Wednesday.
“The harm is especially acute in the case of children. (And) there are currently 179 children in detention in Darwin.”
Dr Hambleton was talking at Parliament House’s Great Hall. Both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott were present.
The AMA president said despite improvements in the provision of health care to immigration detainees, the policy of mandatory detention in remote locations meant “the health status of detainees continues to decline”.
“As the representative body of Australian doctors the AMA is voicing its concerns about an ethical and public health issue,” Dr Hambleton said.
“Prime minister and opposition leader, we leave the politics of asylum seekers to you.
“But we urge both sides of politics to do all that is possible to ensure that these poor people are assured access to quality health care.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the government reaffirmed its support for mandatory detention despite immigration department boss Andrew Metcalfe publicly raising doubts about the policy.
In an unusual move for a senior public servant, Mr Metcalfe on Tuesday urged a parliamentary committee to reconsider whether mandatory detention worked as a deterrent and how long boat people should be incarcerated.
But a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government’s position was clear.
“Mandatory detention is an essential component of border control and we make no apologies for detaining unauthorised arrivals for checks of health, identity and security risks to the community,” the spokesman said.