AMSA President Elise Buisson’s Address at the 2016 Global Health Conference

AMSA President, Elise Buisson, delivered an address to 700 medical students at the 2016 AMSA Global Health Conference. She spoke about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and the responsibility of doctors to take action against indefinite detention.

You can read a full transcript below (check against delivery).


I want you to imagine that were somewhere nice and warm. You’re in France lying, safe and at home on a sunny beach in Nice, wearing long loose, comfortable clothing and soaking up some sun. That is until armed police showed up and require you to take off parts of your clothing. It sounds like a dystopian future, doesn’t it? But we all know it happened this week in France. Because in France, the burkini, is outlawed. And it’s outlawed on the basis of the fact that it’s believed in France that wearing it means that you’re not “adhering to good morals and secularism”. Now I have just one question about that, and that is, are you kidding me? That is exactly the same rhetoric used in other parts of the world to force women to wear the exact same piece of clothing; that they’re not “adhering to good morals and religion”. And I think we all know that the clothing was never the problem. The item of clothing as no inherent moral value. The problem was always whether or not women had a choice that they wanted to wear it or that they didn’t. Whether you’re politicising women’s bodies for religion or for secularism, you’re promoting division either way.

Meanwhile, in the Australian Senate, Pauline Hanson has mostly moved on from the Asian and then Indigenous peoples that she vilified in the earlier parts of her career, to claiming that it’s now Muslims who are ruining our way of life. Now if Pauline ever does come down to visit me in Campbelltown, Western Sydney and partake of a Halal Snack Pack, I’d love to ask her: what is that way of life that you’re protecting? What do we most value and want to preserve about being Australian? Is the Australian way of life the Cronulla riots? Is the Australian way of life the Reclaim Australia rallies? Because I think we all know that we’re proud to be Australian for the opposite of those reasons. Proud because the national code of conduct is one of working hard, looking out for your mates, and not taking life, or yourself, too seriously. Is that the way of life that Pauline Hanson embodies? When a politician taps into something you fear, don’t fall for the rhetoric. Refuse to be used against yourself.

We find ourselves living in a time when all around the world, we are seeing the rise of the politics of fear, and policies of division. When our nation’s Treasurer frames the Australian population as the lifters and the leaners. The taxed and the taxed-nots. The leaders of our nation are trying to take human beings and put them into two clean columns and label just one of them as worthwhile. I want to take a moment to reflect on the fact that as a group of people who are at the hospital without pay during working hours, then studying lectures and tutorials after-hours, and therefore rarely working enough to pay tax and often instead receiving a student Centrelink payment, as defined by your politicians the people in this room are the taxed-nots. In a divided society, we’re the leaners.

I believe that we, as the future of the medical profession, have a significant role to play in reversing the politics of fear. Our profession inherently stands for unity. We treat people regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexuality, political affiliation, and bikini, burkini or mankini. No matter who a person is, when they walk into a clinic or an office or a theatre, we will do our best for them. Now that is the Australian way of life. No matter who you are, we will do our best for you.

There’s a question I want to ask you: in a political environment when a nation is being encouraged to turn in on itself, what do you think becomes of the most vulnerable in that society? You already know the answer. We’ve heard the answer over and over again already at this conference. We heard it when Julian Burnside spoke on the first morning.

We live in a time where the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea says “indefinite detention of asylum seekers is illegal”, the United Nations says, “Australia is violating the Convention Against Torture”, the Nauru files say, “children are being abused”, and the Prime Minister of our country says… “can’t be misty eyed”.

In this, our role is clear. The medical profession stands for the physical and mental health of all. Indefinite detention harms health, so indefinite detention is not acceptable public policy. It has been tried, and it has failed, and the Australian public has been failed by all sides of politics who have allowed this practice to continue. We can try to make it sound more complicated than that by deferring to the wisdom of the political powers that be or referencing lives lost at sea. But nations are culpable for what they allow their political leaders to do when they do those things in plain sight. And our national conscience isn’t unburdened if people are now dying in their homeland instead of drowning off our shores.

So where does the buck stop? Is it with the guards who stand accused of witnessing and even perpetrating abuses of those in their care? Is it with the media who report on asylum seekers as potential terrorists? Is it with our politicians, who call asylum seekers “illegals”, in full knowledge of the fact that it is legal to seek asylum, even to Australia, even by boat, even without papers? The answer, it seems obvious, is yes, and yes, and yes. And yet. The buck has not stopped and neither has the indefinite detention of persecuted people who have done nothing wrong.

Whenever terrible things happen in the world, at some point a little later on, the world reflects and says, “how could that possibly have happened? How could a whole nation possible have allowed that to go on, right under their noses?” People ask those questions again and again because they’re they’re looking for an explanation for how a whole nation of people turns out to be just awful. But that’s just it. Atrocities throughout history didn’t happen because nations were awful. They happened because people read it in the papers and heard it on the news, but they convinced themselves that it wasn’t their problem, and they stood idly by.

There’s this technique that politicians use in interviews, you’ve all seen it. The interviewer asks them a question that, as a leader of our nation they should rightfully be able to answer. But they don’t answer. Instead they say over and over again, “It was the other party that caused this problem” as if that abdicates the current leadership’s responsibility to fix the problem now. If you want to lead this country, you get it with all its victories and all its failures, and you lead us as a nation forward from wherever you find us.

Now, in a funny way, we as medical students find ourselves in a similar position. Doctors and nurses and allied health, we lead the health of this country and we do it from the coalface. Now we can say that indefinite offshore detention is a problem created by the government, which is absolutely true. But regardless, we’ve chosen to take a position of responsibility for this nation’s health – every doctor has – and asylum seekers are under the care of our nation. So even though we aren’t responsible for the creation of this problem, it’s going to be on us to help solve it, and get these people to conditions where they are safe, and well.

If we do not take the lead in protecting the health of the most vulnerable people in our society being put at risk, we have squandered the respect afforded to our profession. We pledge when we become doctors: “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life”. That isn’t a passive requirement, it’s a powerful one. I will maintain the utmost respect for human life. I will not allow human life to be locked up indefinitely without cause and deprived of hope.

Being the President of AMSA this year has taught me a lot of things, but maybe even more importantly, it’s left me with a lot of questions. First and foremost being, “Why are we here?” Here in AMSA, here at this conference, here in medical school. Are we here to fight for our jobs, our education, our quality of life?

There’s nothing wrong with caring about those things. Everyone cares about those things. But if that’s all that we’re here for, we should just about pack up and go home. In a fair society, you only get to ask for more for yourself when you’re putting what you currently have to good use.

And what do we already have? We have a bright future. We have a world-class education. Since the release of the Nauru files, we have more insight into the situation facing our asylum seekers than ever before. And we have an opportunity, when historians re-examine this period of time looking for what went wrong, not to be the people who stood idly by.

It’s time that we showed that the Australian way of life, and the courage of the medical profession, are alive and well. I know the people in this room care about this issue, it’s why we’re here. But we’re not a higher moral class of bystander if we come to a global health conference, or if we know that we care about the issue deep down inside. We need to put our actions where our ideals are and do something.

Or better yet, let’s do something together. Be a part of a united voice: we are the future of the medical profession in this country, and we will not stand idly by. You’re about to get a notification on your app during this conference – if you’re ready to take action, it’ll show you how you can do it with me.

The day I first watched Julian Burnside speak, he was asked a question from the crowd about what he believes the future holds. And he said, “This issue will not be resolved in my time. But I’ll die knowing I did my best for them.” Let’s do the best we can for them. After all, that’s the Australian way of life.

Thank you


To take action: http://tiny.cc/amsa

Applications open for Convention and GHC 2018 Convenors

We are currently looking for students to convene the 2018 AMSA National Convention and Global Health Conference. This provides an exciting opportunity to inspire, challenge and connect medical students from around Australia and for medical students in Hobart or Perth to be involved in shaping a unique program. You will both lead a team of medical student volunteers and hold a position on the AMSA Board.

In August/September 2017, the 13th annual AMSA Global Health Conference will be held in the city of Brisbane or Melbourne. We are now seeking applications for the position of AMSA 2018 Global Health Conference Convenor from either Queensland or Victoria.

In July 2018, the 59th annual AMSA National Convention will be held in the city of Hobart or Perth. Students from Tasmania and Western Australia are welcome to apply

Please see below for further information on the positions and application process.

GHC Convenor 2018

Convention Convenor 2018

 

 

PRESS RELEASE: Medical students aim for a blood flood to save thousands of lives

The Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) is once again running its annual blood drive, Vampire Cup, in conjunction with the Australian Red Cross Blood Service.

AMSA President, Elise Buisson, said today that the donation of blood is a crucial service for modern medical practice, and that AMSA is extremely proud to assist the Australian Red Cross Blood Service with such an invaluable resource.

“Medical students continue to donate more every year with the competition growing by nearly 100 per cent since 2013, with the aim of reaching 2,000 donations in 2016,” said Ms Buisson.

“Vampire Cup continues to be the largest university student blood drive in the nation, with more than 8,000 donations and nearly 3,800 litres of blood donated since its inception in 2008.

“Australia requires more than 25,000 donations each week to meet the demands of patients. The AMSA Blood Drive raises awareness of this need in the community, while encouraging the future medical workforce to donate and remain confident in doing so.”

Deakin University are the current reigning champions with nearly half of all medical students at the university donating. This year, medical schools will go head-to-head across the nation to see who can contribute the most to their community.

This year, the AMSA Blood Drive is teaming up with the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR) to launch an Australian-first pilot program of saliva-based donor registration. The program will offer an exciting opportunity for people to join the Registry by simply having a cheek swab or spitting in a cup.

The program is being trialled nation-wide at the three selected sites – Deakin University, University of New South Wales and University of Western Australia. If successful, this program may be rolled out across Australia to help save lives of people who might otherwise not find a bone marrow match.

Vampire Cup will run until 19th September 2016.

Media Contact:

Tabish Aleemullah

0401550952

pro@amsa.org.au

PRESS RELEASE: Medical students unite against offshore detention

Hundreds of medical students have rung their Federal MPs, urging them to end the offshore detention of asylum seekers.

A national callout campaign has been coordinated by the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA), following a major petition by medical students, and the release last month of the Nauru files, detailing widespread abuse of people seeking asylum.

“As future health professionals of Australia, we want to make it very clear that this is not something we can accept,” AMSA President, Elise Buisson, said today.

“We are calling for the Australian Government to put strategies in action to close the Manus and Nauru centres, and to bring those seeking asylum to the mainland for adequate medical treatment and safe, humane processing.

“This is an issue that resonates strongly with the medical student community, some of whom work closely with refugees and have seen first-hand the impact of indefinite detention on their physical and mental health.”

There is an overwhelming medical consensus that Australia’s immigration detention centres are profoundly detrimental to the physical and mental health of all detainees, and in particular, the developmental health of children.

After two years in immigration detention, almost half of the detention population are found to have a new onset mental health problem and at least a third of children suffer serious, ill mental health. This is in stark contrast to children in the Australian community who experience new onset mental health problems at a prevalence of only two per cent.

“Details of Australia’s detention of asylum seekers including the indefinite nature, the harsh conditions, the frequent unrest and violence inside the centres and the failure to protect certain vulnerable individuals has been found by the United Nations to contravene the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” said Ms Buisson.

“Medical students condemn the unlawful abuse of human rights and deficient medical care found in Australia’s offshore detention system.

“We refuse to be bystanders while the Australian Government ignores overwhelming medical evidence proving our treatment of asylum seekers has a severe and deleterious impact on their physical and mental health.

“AMSA calls upon our nation’s leaders to enact policy that will see the processing of asylum seekers move to onshore sites with the provision of adequate medical care, particularly general practice care, maternal care and mental health care services. With definitive maximum time periods, this is a more humane, healthy and economic alternative to current practices.”

AMSA’s concerns for the health of refugees are shared by numerous other peak health bodies, including the Australian Medical Association (AMA), the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP).

Media Contact:

Tabish Aleemullah

0401 550 952

pro@amsa.org.au

AMSA Awards

This year AMSA is asking any medical student to nominate others for the end of year AMSA awards. This is a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge the passionate, dedicated work of our peers. Awards been given are:
1. Award for best new mental health and/or wellbeing initiative
2. Award for best youth public health initiative
3. Award for best local or national advocacy initiative, see here for more details and the nomination form.

Notice of Sept 2016 General Meeting

Dear Members,

On behalf of the Board of Directors, I am pleased to invite you to a General Meeting of the Australian Medical Students’ Association Limited (AMSA) to be held on Saturday 17 September 2016 in Sydney, Australia.

This General Meeting has been called by Victoria Berquist, Chair of the AMSA Board of Directors for the purposes of electing the 2017 AMSA Executive Senior Management Team and the Election of a Non Executive Director to the AMSA Board.

Members are welcome to attend this meeting in person. Teleconferencing will not be provided. Details regarding the logistics of this meeting will be distributed by Millie Garg, National Coordinator.

Proxy appointment

Members who are unable to attend the meeting and who wish to vote in the elections may appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. Members may specify voting instructions in their proxy form, however, instructions must be given in writing. To nominate a proxy please return the enclosed Proxy Form via electronic mail to: Mr Roger Buckley, company.secretary@amsa.org.au

As per the AMSA Constitution, for MedSoc and Student Members the Proxy Form must be received by AMSA no less than 24 hours before the starting time for the general meeting.

You can find the proxy forms and further information regarding the General Meeting here.

Yours sincerely,

Roger Buckley
roger.buckley@amsa.org.au

PRESS RELEASE: New medical workforce data affirms need for Doctors for Rural Communities

The Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) has warned that the latest national data showing declining numbers of doctors in the rural medical workforce highlights the need for increasing funding into rural training pathways, especially GP training, and not new medical schools.

This week’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report, Medical Practitioner Workforce 2015, showed that the overall supply of medical practitioners was lowest in outer regional and remote areas.

AMSA President, Elise Buisson, stated that a lack of funding for young doctors to train in regional, rural and remote Australia was a significant contributor.

“This latest report confirms that GP and specialist services in regional and rural Australia need sustainable investment. While overall rates of medical specialists and generalists are increasing nationally, they are decreasing in these areas where we need them the most,” said Ms Buisson.

“A 2015 OECD study showed that Australia has the highest medical graduate rate per capita with 3.4 per 1000, compared to New Zealand and the United Kingdom (2.8 per 1000) and the United States and Canada (2.6 per 1000), with Australian medical graduate numbers more than doubling in the past decade.

“Despite this, the people of rural and remote Australia still face worsening access to specialists and GPs, higher rates of chronic disease, and higher rates of death compared to those in our major cities.

“This rural doctor shortage is a problem not of numbers but of distribution, as doctors are faced with a lack of adequate training and working opportunities in rural communities.”

While many medical students and junior doctors are passionate about becoming regional and rural GPs and specialists, upon graduation they find there are few opportunities because of a shortage of accredited training positions outside of the metropolitan centres.

Furthermore, the AIHW report shows that the rural GP workforce is under threat by increasing hours of workload and an aging population. AMSA’s proposal for the expansion of rural GP and specialist training positions for junior doctors would serve to relieve this. In contrast, more medical schools producing more graduates without training opportunities would worsen the strain.

“Of all medical practitioners, GPs represent the most aging population of doctors, having the highest proportion aged 55 or over, while rural GPs work the most average hours per week compared to their metropolitan counterparts,” said Ms Buisson.

“We need to use evidence-based strategies to resolve rural workforce shortages, which includes making the funding of rural training positions a priority.”

The Government is set to establish a National Rural Health Commissioner. AMSA looks forward to working with them on these sustainable workforce strategies.

Media Contact:

Tabish Aleemullah

0401550952

pro@amsa.org.au

Applications for Council 3 Minute Taker

AMSA is calling for expressions of interest for the position of minute taker for Council 3 2016. If you are interested in the role please read the attached information and apply by 20th August 2016. Council 3 will be held 16th -18th September, 2016 in Sydney, NSW from 9am- 5pm (you should be available 8am-6pm). It should be noted that AMSA will not cover the cost of transport and accommodation for the minute taker but the fee of council registration will be waived.

Please see here for more information see below

Application Information Council 3 Minute Taker

PRESS RELEASE: Medical students take action on climate change

The Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) is calling on the Government to firmly enact climate change policy and invest towards fulfilling its commitment to the UN Paris Agreement.

AMSA President, Elise Buisson, spoke of the need for action to minimise the detrimental health impacts of climate change during the Association’s National Code Green Week, a project founded in partnership with the Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) and Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA).

“AMSA is challenging the nation’s leaders to invest in climate-resilient development and to lower greenhouse gas emissions,” said Ms Buisson.

“Climate change is one of the defining health issues of the century and one of the biggest threats to global health. It has the potential to kill thousands of people around the world through changing patterns of disease, rising water and food insecurity, threats to housing, extreme climatic events and unstable population growth and migration.

“By reducing the use of fossil fuels and increasing reliance on renewable energy we can mitigate climate change and improve health, Ms Buisson said.

“As Australia is one of the signatories of the UN Paris Agreement, it is imperative that we actively work towards holding the increase in the global average temperatures to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“To have a reasonable chance at meeting this target, up to 80 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground. This would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

Although primary prevention is key, one of the fundamental points of the Paris Agreement is to concurrently increase the ability of global citizens to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.

“AMSA’s National Code Green Week engages hundreds of Australian medical students with initiatives to educate future doctors about the medical concerns associated with climate change, while offering active opportunities to clean up local beaches and advocate for divestment,” said Ms Buisson.

“We must all play our part in creating a climate resilient healthcare system and partnerships with experts such as Dr Hamish Graham, co-founder of Global Health Gateway, discussing solar powered oxygen concentrators for use in hospitals, to Rike Wolf, founder of Food Rescue, are significant.”

AMSA’s National Code Green Week is internationally-acclaimed, having been awarded top honours at the International Federation of Medical Students Associations’ (IFMSA) General Assembly and the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Towards Unity For Health Conference in China, 2016. To find out more, visit https://www.facebook.com/AMSA.global.health/.

Media Contact:

Tabish Aleemullah

0401550952

pro@amsa.org.au

Paris Agreement 2015

Paris Agreement 2015

 

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