‘No excuse for the harm that I’ve caused’

From left: Reverend Dr Stephanie Dowrick, Dr Paul Bauert, Dr Kerryn Phelps MP, Jackie Stricker-Phelps and Vic Alhadeff. Photo: Sophie Deutsch

AFTER touring the Sydney Jewish Museum (SJM) on Tuesday, human rights advocate and paediatrician Dr Paul Bauert, who compared the suffering of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru to Holocaust victims at Auschwitz in an interview with Sky News, said he now has a deeper understanding of how his comments upset people.

Bauert, director of paediatrics at Royal Darwin Hospital and a member of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) federal executive, previously told Sky News that Manus and Nauru detainees are deprived of certainty about their future.

“This more than anything causes severe mental health damage,” he remarked, before going on to say: “Even those that finally knew they were about to be condemned to the gas chamber, at least found some sense of relief in knowing what was happening.”

Speaking to The AJN, Bauert commented, “As I’ve said before, I am very sorry [that my comments upset people] … There is no excuse for the harm that I’ve caused to these people by reigniting their memories of this absolutely obscene part of our history … There’s absolutely no way that I regard the situation on Manus or Nauru as comparable to what happened at Auschwitz.”

Explaining his reference to psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Dr Viktor Frankl’s work about the psychology of human suffering with no foreseeable end in sight, Bauert said, “My effort was to explain some of the mental health issues that I felt a lot of the asylum seekers without any hope were going through, and the analogy with Viktor Frankl’s work was not appropriate.”

Dr Kerryn Phelps has known Bauert for over 20 years, and learnt of his work with children from remote Aboriginal communities when travelling with him around the Northern Territory through her former position as president of the AMA.

“I arranged for Dr Bauert to be invited to the SJM because I believe that misunderstanding in the absence of malice is best addressed through education and enlightened conversation,” said Phelps. “I was heartened to see the connection between Holocaust survivor Olga Horak and Dr Bauert. Good people can make mistakes and I wanted Dr Bauert to have the opportunity to learn firsthand from the experience of a Holocaust survivor about the reasons his comments caused such distress.”

CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Vic Alhadeff, Bauert’s wife, interfaith minister and activist Reverend Dr Stephanie Dowrick, and Phelps’ wife Jackie Stricker-Phelps also participated in the tour, which was led by SJM education manager, Sandy Hollis.

SOPHIE DEUTSCH