Priceless overseas health professionals


Son's disorder forces doctor out of town Yesterday's Sunday papers reported that a well regarded midwife recruited from the UK is being required to leave Australia because her child with Down syndrome is considered a burden on the taxpayer.

The woman works at Perth's Joondalup Hospital, where staff describe her as 'one of the hospital's best'. Her permanent residency application was rejected six years ago because the Federal Government saw her child as needing health or community services that would constitute a 'significant cost to the Australian community'. After a long succession of appeals, it is understood that the unnamed midwife has only weeks before she must leave Australia.

The reporting of her case follows community outrage recently when German doctor Bernhard Moeller, who works in rural Victoria, was denied permanent residence because his son Lukas has Down syndrome.

Dr Moeller had been hoping to live permanently in Horsham after serving the community for more than two years. However the Department of Immigration notified him recently that it had rejected his application for permanent residency.

A Department official assured The Australian that it is not a case of discrimination, but rather a weighing up of the costs and benefits to the Australian taxpayer.

'This is not discrimination. A disability in itself is not grounds for failing the health requirement — it is a question of the cost implications to the community.'

Other politicians weighed in on the argument, insisting that the service Dr Moeller was providing in Horsham represented value for money in the context of the rural health skills shortage. Premier John Brumby said Moeller was making a valuable contribution to the region. Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said she would be talking to Immigration Minister Chris Evans about the case, as it is difficult to attract quality medical professionals to the bush.

The argument about the costs and benefits of allowing such individuals to remain in Australia appears to be narrowly focused on economics. The Immigration official applies a general principle that the dollar cost of admitting immigrants with Down syndrome makes it unjustified. The counter-arguments of Roxon and Brumby would be based on considerations such as the prohibitive monetary cost of transporting patients needing specialist attention to Melbourne.

Such decisions appear to embody the vices that led to the economic collapse — restricting prosperity to a matter of economic costs and benefits. Maintaining rigid economic criteria for immigration denies officials the power to exercise discretion to judge the contribution individuals are likely to make to a more broadly-based notion of community well-being.

What is more disturbing about the case of the Perth midwife is that she told the press that she did not wish to be named or interviewed, fearing retribution by the Government. The emergence of her case indicates that Dr Moeller's was not isolated. Moreover her fear of publicity suggests there could be many more we don't know about that are being judged on narrow economic criteria.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.





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Existing comments

What is the cost to the community of a long term smoker. So in this case the smoker is an Australian, but this does not discount their need for ongoing support when; and it is when, they require long term medical care. Those with Down syndrome are not as great a burden to the system as many others, in fact many with Down syndrome do lead highly useful lives in the general community.

GeoffB | 10 November 2008  

What can be done about these tragic cases of blatant discrimination? Will the Goverment also prevent payment to wives of prisoners; demeted pensioners; young people who cannot find work.

Rosemary Keenan | 10 November 2008  

Yet again we see the effects of the application of narrow economic criteria to determine an application for residency. This approach by the Department of Immigration focuses on the economic cost to the community of granting residency to a single member of a family. It does so in order to determine whether a whole family can be granted residency.Surely,leaving aside other non-economic considerations,a proper application of economic "principles" requires the factoring in of the economic aspects for each member of the family and then aggregating those effects to arrive at the economic costs and benefits of the whole family being granted residency.That the Dept.of Immigration does not weigh all of the economic considerations applicable to these families points to a grave deficiency in their methodology. If you are going to use economic factors alone to determine applications for residency then at least apply them properly. There are of course other factors which need be taken into account as well.Yet again we see the effects of the mecanistic application of a defective methodolgy to not only deny a family or an individual reidency, but this formulaic approach denies Australia the significant benefits which would flow from allowing these people permanent residience.It is to be hoped that the Minister, reluctant as he is to be involved in these matters, will override the decisions of his bureaucrats.

Graham Holmes | 10 November 2008  

I find these rulings abhorrent. Does this mean that the only thing keeping many 'economically unsustainable' people from being asked to leave this country is the fact that they were born here?

I think these rulings show up a disability of attitude within the Department of Immigration itself. Perhaps those within the department who have made these rulings could spend some time with their fellow human beings with Down syndrome. If they must continue with their economically myopic view, these Immigration officials could then spend their time putting dollar values on the amount of life and fun that these people with Down syndrome bring to their friends,families and the broader community. They could also give a dollar value to the amount of love and care that these families bring to Australia through their care of those members of their families with Down syndrome. The department could then do a cost analysis on just how the presence of these people with Down syndrome in their local communities invite others to look at where compassion is in their own lives. How does one put a dollar value on love, care and compassion? I'm sure the department can find a way.

Andrew McAlister | 10 November 2008  

Congratulations, Michael. I hope a lot of us take this up with the Ministers involved. I thought we had left this sort of government behaviour behind.

Joe Castley | 10 November 2008  

The way I see it, he's helping anywhere of up to 54,000 sick Australians, some of them probably also suffering from Down Syndrome themselves. The least we can do as a country is return the favour and allow his family to stay and show our appreciation to someone willing to completely change their lives to come here and help sick Australians. And the Immigration Department is using Down syndrome as an excuse. What will it be next, a person suffering depression or someone with the flu? Those two illnesses cause more burdens on the taxpayer than anything else so its not fair to point the finger in one direction at a disability where people can live productive and happy lives.

Vimana | 11 November 2008  

What is the cost to Australia if we do not allow these people to stay? The loss of humanity. Are we so mean spirited that we do not wish to support difference or are we trying to create a perfect nation?

The loss of these families on economic grounds diminishes our country.

joanne | 11 November 2008  

Far from being a burden on the taxpayer, Downs syndrome people make every one feel happy who know them and never get into trouble with the law .The nurse and the Doctor will give far more back to Australia than they will take .What is wrong with this picture?

Rita | 11 November 2008  

I think Dr. Moeller and his son and family should definitely be allowed to stay in Australia. Also the nurse from WA.

Marie Dullard | 12 November 2008  

This is not a new happening - over 12 years ago my partner and I gave evidence at an Immigration Tribunal hearing in support of a 'disability issue' for an overseas child's permanent residency!
The entire argument was based on economics - calculations that at best were frightening in their effort to make a case - and amusing to our own child, who as a teenager with the same disability - found the amounts claimed to be laughable!!
We were successful in helping this case win - but the experience was disheartening and offensive - I understand and appreciate the reasons for and fear of being named by the midwife - so sad.

Anne | 14 November 2008  

Howard and Ruddock may have gone but their legacy lives on in the legislation and the administration. I fear it will take many years for the culture in Immigration to be changed so that officers will challenge the rules under which they are required to operate.

Warwick | 15 November 2008  

community wellbeing requires respect for mothers; the current cost focused outlook is leading to the phasing out of the lying in period for mothers and reduced breast feeding education for those who need it. i am a midwife and want to be named expressing my disgust at the betrayal of mothers and midwives by the victorian state govt. it is only if people speak up that the sacred bond of mother and child will be honoured.

geoff fox | 19 January 2009  

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