Queensland Liberal senator Ian Macdonald has suggested sending Torres Strait Islanders, and other Indigenous Australians, to Manus and Nauru to receive healthcare if there are medical shortages in their communities.
Senator Macdonald, whose electorate covers the Torres Strait Islands, made the suggestion during a senate estimates hearing with the Human Rights Commission on Tuesday, asking president Rosalind Croucher whether the commission has been involved in Manus or Nauru.
“Have you been involved in Manus or Nauru?” Mr Macdonald asked.
“Not directly, chair,” Ms Croucher responded.
“I was going to say if there are medical shortages in the Torres Strait or other Indigenous communities perhaps they should go to Manus or Nauru where there is a ratio of one medical professional to every 10 people,” Senator Macdonald said.
There were audible gasps from the witness bench, Senator Macdonald continued.
“It’s just amazing how we can provide that sort of assistance to people who aren’t Australians and yet I know that many of our communities suffer from that.”
The senator's comments came after Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar described to the hearing some of the issues she has observed in the Torres Strait.
“I heard from women on Murray Island, on Thursday Island and Saibai Island the huge effects of the lack of housing, mental health is a huge issue as well,” Ms Oscar said.
Ms Oscar has been travelling the country as part of her Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) project to raise awareness about human rights, and report back to the government on how to better "promote and protect these rights".
Ms Oscar did not have the opportunity to immediately respond to Senator Macdonald's offshore immigration detention health services suggestion, and it is unclear whether his comments were taken seriously by those present.
However, the senator's proposal has been met with heavy criticism online, with academic Marcia Langton saying it is a reminder of “why the genocide of Australian Indigenous people is back on the cards”.
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IndigenousX founder and CEO Luke Pearson said the comments were “unacceptable.”
“Ian Macdonald saying it’s unacceptable we supposedly ‘treat refugees better than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’ not because he wants better treatment for us, but because he wants worse treatment for them... racist point scoring off the back of Indigenous suffering,” he said.
While Tim Senior – an Aboriginal Health GP – said the suggestion left him at a loss.
“Ian Macdonald, an actual senator, suggests the solution to Indigenous health is send people to Manus and Nauru because the medical care is so good there. I’m at a loss. The stupid. It burns,” he said.
Senator Macdonald's comments come amid controversy surrounding Australia's off-shore detention policy, with cross-bench MPs increasing pressure on the government to accept New Zealand's offer to take up to 150 refugees.
Just this week, 11 children and their families were transferred from Nauru to Australia for urgent medical attention with another 52 minors remaining on the Pacific Island.