Most people would agree that we all need to be able to live in peace and develop skills for a happy life. Twenty-five years ago I became an Australian citizen. At that time I would never have imagined the inhumane treatment that would be meted out by a Coalition government to vulnerable refugees.

If I were to deprive an animal of food, water and essential health care for a period of even a few days, I would rightly be reported to the R.S.P.C.A., taken to court, and have to pay the legal penalties. If my treatment of several animals resulted in death, then I would be put in jail.

Australia is treating refugees worse than anyone is allowed to treat domestic or farm animals. To our shame, refugees have died in off-shore detention camps, either from being driven to suicide, or by lack of proper medical care, or as a result of attacks on unarmed refugees by detention centre guards or local inhabitants of the surrounding area.

On Nauru the teaching staff come back to Australia with lung irritation due to the phosphate dust in the hot, dry quarry area where the refugees have been forced to live. On Manus the drinking water supply has been limited. Children are still in detention centres on Nauru and have been psychologically harmed by their experiences there. Some adult refugees have burned themselves to death in order to attract the attention to the plight of fellow refugees on Manus and Nauru.

Two or three years ago, a girl in her early teens was sent as an unaccompanied minor to Nauru. I often wonder what happened to her. Women and girls and unaccompanied minors have been made vulnerable to rape in detention. In more than one case pregnancy termination in Australia has been denied. Last week on television a brave medical practitioner described the tactics used by Australian government employees to prevent refugees from receiving proper medical treatment.

Australia needs to rescue its reputation, find its compassion, and allow the people on Manus and Nauru to be settled in countries such as New Zealand, Canada, and perhaps quietly in Australia. Some of these people have families or family members already living and working peaceably in Australia. It makes no sense to keep these family members apart in the name of political expediency.

The turning back of boats has not stopped the deaths at sea. Boats still come, and I know of at least one man who drowned after being pushed off whilst trying to board a border patrol boat.

The millions of dollars spent on sub-standard accommodation, poor food, limited drinking water, hot tents, and inadequate medical care on Nauru and Manus would have been better used in helping people in overseas camps. Those on Manus and Nauru could have been safely settled here and become valuable Australian citizens. As a wealthy nation, Australia is doing very little to make the world a better place. Many countries that are a lot less wealthy are doing much more to help refugees.

Gillian Blair, Panmure, Vic.