Nine asylum-seeker mothers threatening suicide at the Christmas Island detention centre are under 24-hour surveillance by male guards as Prime Minister Tony Abbott vows not give in to their “moral blackmail”.
Christmas Island Shire councillor Gordon Thomson says the women are prepared to sacrifice themselves to give their children a better life.
“They believe that by killing themselves, their babies born in Australia will have to stay in Australia,” he told AAP on Wednesday.
One of the women, a sole parent, has four children under the age of four.
“They’ve always got an officer with them when they go to the toilet, have a shower, breast feed their babies, eat,” Mr Thomson said.
“They are always under watch, there is no private moment ever.”
A shortage of female guards meant the women were under watch from male officers, Mr Thomson said.
Mr Abbott insists his government won’t capitulate to what he described as “moral blackmail”.
“No Australian government should be subjected to the spectacle of people saying `Unless you accept us, I am going to commit self harm’,” he said.
Labor leader Bill Shorten accused the prime minister of washing his hands of asylum seekers.
“You mightn’t wish this was so but these people are human beings in the care of Australia and the care of the Australian government,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young accused Mr Abbott of pushing people to a point of self destruction.
Comment has been sought from centre manager Serco.
Meanwhile, the Refugee Council of Australia says its analysis of immigration department asylum seeker data, as at May 31, shows children are more likely than adults to be in detention.
It found 23 per cent of 4331 child asylum seekers had been detained.
This compared to only 18 per cent of adults, although the number of adult detainees far outstripped children at 29,521 people.
There were 2395 asylum seekers in detention on Nauru and Papua New Guinea, 4016 in detention in Australia while 27,441 were living in the community.
The Senate was told a woman, who was not one of the nine mothers, had thrown herself off a building earlier this week and was receiving hospital treatment.
Cabinet minister Eric Abetz told Senate question time a small number of “minor self-harm incidents” had occurred but he would not elaborate to protect their privacy.
“Those involved are receiving proper and appropriate medical and other support,” he said.