“If you move on baby Asha, you move on 15,000 Maritime Union members.” That’s what Bob Carnegie, Queensland State Secretary of the MUA, told a wildly enthusiastic crowd outside Lady Cilento Hospital on Monday 15 February.
A few days before, when news leaked that Lady Cilento Hospital staff had refused to discharge baby Asha to possible deportation to Nauru, refugee activists quickly organised a solidarity vigil and picket. It has been going strong since then, with unions now organising a roster of supporters.
Coming amidst the anger over the 267 facing deportation to Nauru, Asha’s plight has been a lightning rod for the growing refugee movement. The stand by doctors and nurses has vividly demonstrated the meaning of one of the movement’s slogans, “get in the way to #letthemstay”.
At the same rally that Carnegie pledged the Maritime workers’ support, over ten other unions did the same, including the CFMEU (Construction and General), Queensland Nurses, NTEU, CPSU, Together, United Voice, AMWU, ASU, IEU, and ETU.
“We’re all here tonight to say we back them 100 per cent,” said Ged Kearney, Secretary of ACTU. She called for an end to “all offshore immigration facilities” and for equal access to healthcare, education and employment for refugees.
A representative from the Queensland Teachers’ Union told the rally, “We have students in community detention and detention and we want to see them released to reach their full potential.”
If unions refuse to co-operate with any deportations, it will create a serious obstacle for the government. And any stance against the removals would get wide community support.
Baby Asha’s cause has brought together a beautiful cross-section of the community.
The Rohingya community set up a kitchen to feed the crowds. Other supporters have simply showed up with cakes and snacks. Several Catholic schools joined a school students’ afternoon. Faith leaders held a candlelight vigil and lead prayers; children’s entertainers were enlisted to do a sing-a-long at a Mums and bubs event.
Queensland’s Health Minister Cameron Dick has been pressured to support the cause, saying “I strongly support doctors in our hospitals to make the right clinical decisions.”
This is one of the most promising and inspiring developments in the movement to free the refugees we’ve seen in a long time. Keeping up the momentum, and deepening the support, is essential.
The government has flagged moving Asha and her parents to community detention. But that would leave them more vulnerable to the Immigration Department and being moved to Nauru.
There is only one place that Asha, her family and all of the 267 can get the safety and protection they need—and that is to be free in the Australian community. One child—one person—in detention, is one too many.
By Amy Thomas