Scott Morrison has incorrectly claimed an abandoned premature baby found in “awful” circumstances in an airport toilet that triggered the forced internal examinations of Australian women on a tarmac in Qatar has died.
The Prime Minister made the remarks at a press conference in Canberra today as calls mounted for Australia to take stronger action over the matter.
But Mr Morrison’s office was swiftly forced to issue a clarification he had “misspoke” after confusion over whether the baby lived or died.
Earlier, it was revealed women from around the world from up to 10 planes may have been subjected to the medical examinations.
“We find this unacceptable. That has been the official message and conveyed very clearly in the investigation, because it is unacceptable,’’ Mr Morrison said.
“I mean, it was appalling. As a father of a daughter, I could only shudder at the thought that anyone would, Australian or otherwise, it would be subjected to that.”
But asked why Australia was waiting for those reports and had not lodged an official protest with Qatar, Mr Morrison then added that the baby had “died” in awful circumstances.
“You rightly raise the fact this occurred not in Australia but Qatar, it occurred in a set of circumstances also quite awful, I’m talking about the death of a child, and that is a very distressing incident as well,’’ he said.
In fact, the Qatari government has insisted for 48 hours that the baby is alive, a fact reiterated in a statement released today.
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Qatar is under fire after the incident that saw passengers stripsearched. Picture: PASCAL PAVANI / AFPSource:AFP
A spokesman said today the newborn infant was found in a trash can, concealed in a plastic bag and buried under garbage, at Hamad International Airport.
The statement claimed the baby girl was rescued from what appeared to be a “shocking and appalling attempt to kill her”.
“The infant is now safe under medical care in Doha,’’ he said.
“This was the first instance of an abandoned infant being discovered in such a condition at HIA – this egregious and life-threatening violation of the law triggered an immediate search for the parents, including on flights in the vicinity of where the newborn was found.
“While the aim of the urgently-decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveller caused by this action.
“His Excellency Sheik Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of the State of Qatar has directed that a comprehensive, transparent investigation into the incident be conducted. The results of the investigation will be shared with our international partners. The State of Qatar remains committed to ensuring the safety, security and comfort of all travellers transiting through the country.”
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The Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the incident was unacceptable. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary RamageSource:News Corp Australia
The statement represents as close to an apology as Qatar has got in recent days as anger over the incident has increased internationally.
Mr Morrison was also asked why the Foreign Minister had not “picked up the phone right away to her Qatari counterpart.”
“The Australian government made its views very clear at the time and we should have and we have,’’ he said.
At Senate estimates. Labor senator Penny Wong also asked Foreign Minister Marise Payne about why she had not yet spoken to Qatar’s Foreign Minister.
“Don’t you think Australians and the women concerned would expect that of our Foreign Minister?” she asked.
The Foreign Minister said her priority is to “get the report so I can deal with that directly so we can engage in acquiring that report as soon as it’s available.”
“It’s very clear this is not acceptable,’’ she said.
The Foreign Affairs secretary Frances Adamson also revealed a DFAT staffer was on one of the flights but said she was not searched because she was “not of child-bearing age”.
“Like other passengers she was shocked at what happened,’’ Ms Adamson said.
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