The Australian Education Union (AEU) Victorian Branch Council has endorsed a planned Walk Off by teachers and education support staff in support of refugees on November 20, Universal Children’s Day.
There are currently about 60 refugee children being detained by the Australian government on Nauru.
More than 6000 doctors issued an open letter to the government on October 22, calling on it to remove children from Nauru due to a very serious mental and physical health emergency on the Pacific island.
Doctors and health workers have spoken out about the significant trauma children suffer in detention.
Australian Medical Association paediatric representative Dr Paul Bauert, who has worked on Nauru, said that nearly all the children in detention on Nauru are traumatised.
“Many are damaged already, but we don’t want this damage to be permanent,” Bauert said. “They need to be assessed and treated as a matter of urgency. “It’s a miracle we haven’t had a death already.”
Liberal MP Julia Banks came out that same day and said “this issue comes down to a simple truth — it is our humanitarian obligation to get these children and their families off Nauru.”
The Teachers For Refugees group initiated the walk off, quickly collecting 66 signatures from AEU members from various schools in support of the initiative.
Teachers for Refugees’ Lucy Honan presented the signatures to AEU officials, who responded by moving a motion to the Branch Council.
The motion states that the council “encourages members to sign a letter to the Prime Minister demanding action; asking members to call their federal member of parliament; and participating in the Blue for Nauru activity on 13 November."
It adds: “In the event that those seeking asylum, children and adults, remain in Nauru, Council supports the Teachers/ES for Refugees action planned for 20 November."
The motion was passed unopposed with strong support coming from union officials.
The AEU Vic Branch is the first union to take this kind of action in support of refugees.
Rank-and-file members of other unions are now planning similar actions.
[For more details about the Walk Off contact Lucy Honan on 0404 728 104. Mary Merkenich is a Socialist Alliance member and an AEU Branch Councillor.]