ELEVEN children were transferred off Nauru on Monday, hours before a Senate estimates hearing, the Australian Border Force confirmed.
Deputy commissioner Mandy Newton said 52 children remained on Nauru, with 652 people on the Pacific Island in total, 541 of whom have been granted refugee status.
A further 626 men are on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
Nine adults were transferred along with the children, who were moved for medical reasons, and join more than 600 people in Australia on “temporary transfers” from offshore detention.
The move comes after a spike in medical transfers off Nauru in recent months, with the Government under renewed pressure to move all minors off the island.
The Home Affairs department said it had spent $480,000 in legal fees in just three months responding to applications to have refugees medically transferred to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru. The figure far outstrips spending for the entire previous financial year, with $275,000 spent on such legal fees in 2017-18.
There were just five applications lodged between May and June this year.
“The number of applications coming from legal firms has increased considerably,” Home Affairs deputy secretary Cheryl-anne Moy told the hearing.
The rapid rise in legal costs comes as Australian doctors, opposition parties and some Government backbenchers raise serious concerns about the health of those held in detention.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under immense pressure to get sick refugee children and their families off Nauru.
Mr Morrison has said he was willing to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle asylum seekers and their families from the Pacific island, on the condition they never come to Australia.
Labor frontbencher Tony Burke said his party was sceptical about the bill, which has been stuck in Parliament for almost two years, and needed more information before it went any further.
“That bill when it was put to the Parliament was never said to be about New Zealand — our objections to it hold,” Mr Burke told ABC radio on Monday. “There are deep, deep problems with that bill.”
Three Liberal MPs — Russell Broadbent, Craig Laundy and Julia Banks — last week demanded Mr Morrison get children off Nauru.
Independent Andrew Wilkie introduced another bill to Parliament on Monday that would temporarily bring children and their families on Nauru to Australia for medical treatment.
“I would hope that everyone in this place … would understand and agree that you don’t play games with children’s lives,” he told Parliament. “There is an urgent need for the Parliament to deal with this bill because there is a humanitarian crisis on Nauru and the government is refusing to address it.”
The head doctor for offshore asylum seekers said medical staff on Nauru have seen “an unprecedented jump” in presentations in the past few months.
Home Affairs chief medical officer Parbodh Gogna said the reason for the spike in medical presentations on Nauru was unclear.
But the GP said anecdotes indicated some may be the result of the length of time refugees have spent on the island and the mental unwellness of parents transferring to children.
Before Dr Gogna began in July, Home Affairs had had no medically trained chief medical officer since psychiatrist John Brayley’s resignation in October 2017.
Originally published as Eleven kids quietly removed from Nauru