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:

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



Bullying and Harassment in Medicine – AMSA’s Response to the Senate Inquiry

The Senate Inquiry into Medical Complaints Processes in Australia was conducted during 2016. This inquiry accepted written submissions and verbal testimony.

The written submission developed by AMSA can be viewed here.

The 2016 President of the Australian Medical Students’ Association, Elise Buisson, gave evidence to the inquiry during its hearing on November 1, 2016. The transcript of this testimony can be found here.

The terms of reference for the Senate Inquiry were as follows.

The medical complaints process in Australia, with particular reference to:

  1. the prevalence of bullying and harassment in Australia’s medical profession;
  2. any barriers, whether real or perceived, to medical practitioners reporting bullying and harassment;
  3. the roles of the Medical Board of Australia, the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency and other relevant organisations in managing investigations into the professional conduct (including allegations of bullying and harassment), performance or health of a registered medical practitioner or student;
  4. the operation of the Health Practitioners Regulation National Law Act 2009 (the National Law), particularly as it relates to the complaints handling process;
  5. whether the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme, established under the National Law, results in better health outcomes for patients, and supports a world-class standard of medical care in Australia;
  6. the benefits of ‘benchmarking’ complaints about complication rates of particular medical practitioners against complication rates for the same procedure against other similarly qualified and experienced medical practitioners when assessing complaints;
  7. the desirability of requiring complainants to sign a declaration that their complaint is being made in good faith; and
  8. any related matters.

MEDIA ALERT: AMSA to give evidence at Senate Inquiry into medical complaints process

President of the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA), Elise Buisson, will today be providing evidence regarding bullying and sexual harassment in the medical workforce to a Senate inquiry into the medical complaints process.

The hearing is being held at Room P1, Portside Centre, Sydney, and Ms Buisson will be appearing before the committee at 10:45am.

Other medical bodies providing evidence scheduled to give evidence include the National Health Practitioner Ombudsmen and Privacy Commissioner, the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA), the Health Professionals Australia Reform Association (HPARA), the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), the Royal Australian College of Medical Administrators, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists,  the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), the Medical Board of Australia, the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia and the Commonwealth Department of Health.

Media are kindly invited to attend.

Media Contact:

Tabish Aleemullah



Call for Applications AMSA National Leadership Development Seminar 2017 Convenor 

The AMSA National Leadership Development Seminar (NLDS) is AMSA’s premier academic event, held annually in Canberra. In 2017 NLDS will run for 4 days in late May to early June.

AMSA is seeking written applications for the position of Convenor following the recent stepping down of the selected Convenor.

Application process: Written applications addressing the criteria can be found here will be used to select a shortlist of candidates. Shortlisted candidates will then be contacted for interview.

Please send your written application and direct any further questions to the Executive Officer, Roger Buckley at by 5pm on the 20th of October 2016.

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


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

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,

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

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