Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he “deeply” regrets that an asylum seeker was given limited access to her sick baby, but won’t apologise “for what happens when people come to Australia illegally”.
Latifa, a Rohingyan woman from Myanmar, gave birth in Brisbane’s Mater Hospital last week but was returned to a detention centre while her baby remained in the neonatal intensive care unit.
For several days the Immigration Department only allowed Latifa to visit her baby at the hospital between 10:00am and 4:00pm.
Mr Abbott says he has read reports about Latifa’s case and “deeply” regrets that she was separated from her child.
“But we’ve got to ask ourselves, why have any of these things happened?” he said on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka.
“They’ve happened because people have come to Australia illegally by boat and if you want to avoid these things, you’ve got to stop the boats.
“I don’t, as it were, apologise for what happens when people come to Australia illegally by boat, because I am determined, as the new Government is determined, to stop this dangerous, this horrible business.”
The baby was discharged from hospital yesterday.
A spokesman for the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison yesterday said doctors at the hospital had advised that it is common for mothers not to stay overnight because of bed restrictions.
Photo: Latifa was only allowed to visit her baby between the hours of 10:00am and 4:00pm. (Supplied)
But in a statement, the Mater Hospital suggested Latifa should have been allowed to visit her child whenever she wanted.
The hospital says it encourages new mothers to be involved in the baby’s care wherever possible to help establish a strong bond, and does not place restrictions on visiting hours.
“Mater places no restrictions on women and they can visit their baby anytime where possible,” the statement said.
In his weekly media briefing today, Mr Morrison revealed he has asked his department to investigate the matter.
“I have requested my department to look at the arrangements that were put around that particular instance to ensure that a mother would have as much access to their child as they would request and consistent with the standards and opportunities that would be otherwise available to any Australian at that hospital,” he said.
“The issue here was also bed restrictions and bed restrictions don’t apply only to people who might be transferees in this situation, they apply to Australians as well.”
“I’m sure no-one is suggesting that anyone who found themselves in this situation as an asylum seeker should be receiving preferable treatment over, to any, Australian in that situation.”
Former Liberal leader John Hewson this morning accused Mr Morrison of arrogance and condemned the decision to limit the woman’s access to her baby as inhumane.
“It’s inhumanity in the extreme in my view, I mean a mother in these circumstances is normally given 24-hour access to a child in intensive care,” Dr Hewson told Sky News.
“I mean for heaven’s sake, Morrison can go make all the short-term points he likes out there, but this is something I think that sends absolutely the wrong message.”