Prime Minister Tony Abbott has savaged a report into the detention of children, saying the human rights watchdog should be ashamed of itself.
Thursday 23 Apr 2015
A Royal Commission into the mandatory detention of asylum seeker children is being sought by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
 Read the report in full at the end of the articleAlleged sexual assault of children detailed buy detention staffThey live in a state of danger: Nauru worker speaks outThe Commission, which conducted a 10-month inquiry into children...
Thursday 12 Feb 2015

Tony Abbott says the Australian Human Rights Commission should be ashamed of its report into the detention of children.

Tony Abbott has savaged a report into the detention of children, saying the human rights watchdog should be ashamed of itself.

The prime minister says the new Australian Human Rights Commission report, which calls for a royal commission, is a "blatantly partisan" exercise.

"The human rights commission ought to be ashamed of itself," he told Fairfax Radio on Thursday.

"Where was the human rights commission when hundreds of people were drowning at sea?

"Where was the human rights commission when there were almost 2000 children in detention?"

The commission's 10-month inquiry found prolonged immigration detention caused significant mental and physical illness, while hundreds of assaults and 128 cases of self harm were reported between January 2013 and March 2014.

It also uncovered 33 reports of sexual assault.

But Mr Abbott said the commission should be thanking the government for stopping the flow of asylum seeker boats and dramatically reducing the number of kids in detention.

Numbers of children in immigration detention peaked at nearly 2000 in mid-2013 under Labor. There are now only about 200 children still detained.

"I reckon the human rights commission ought to be sending a note of congratulations to Scott Morrison saying well done, mate," Mr Abbott said, referring to the former immigration minister.

Asked if he felt any guilt about the remaining 200 kids still in detention, Mr Abbott was blunt: "None whatsoever."

Earlier, current Immigration Minister Peter Dutton denied the government had mounted a political witch-hunt against the commission and its boss, Gillian Triggs.

Mr Morrison also suggested there were political motivations behind the timing of the report.

"I think the Australian people aren't mugs - they can make their own conclusion about all this."

Mr Dutton denied the government's tactic was to discredit the report by attacking Professor Triggs.

The government has pledged to remove children from onshore detention, and has already taken all kids off Christmas Island.

Mr Dutton said the report was "historically" representative of the detention system under the previous Labor system.

Labor defended the commission.

"I absolutely, completely reject the idea that the commissioner and her work has been political, and I think that's a deeply unfair aspersion on Gillian Triggs," immigration spokesman Richard Marles said.

Prof Triggs rejected Mr Abbott's claim the report was a political exercise.

"It is a fair-minded report," she told reporters in Sydney.

"I expect this government to read this report, not to view it through a political lens, but to read the report and work across the benches in parliament to achieve a result."

Prof Triggs believes there will be public support for the commission's recommendations.

Despite the government's criticism of the findings, she said it was "entirely realistic" to hope for a royal commission.

(File: AAP)

Immigration minister Peter Dutton says the findings in a Human Rights Commission report into children in immigration detention are historical and do not warrant a royal commission into the situation today.

Mr Dutton made the comments after the Human Rights Commission yesterday released a damning report that called for a royal commission to consider the long-term physical and mental effects on children in detention.

The report said hundreds of assaults and 128 cases of self-harm had been reported between January 2013 and March 2014.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young today backed calls for a royal commission.

"I think this report really unveils an awful culture of institutionalised child abuse," Greens spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young,” she told ABC's Radio National.

"We saw, a decade ago, a very similar report, which talked about the damning effects of detention on children and we had politicians blame each other and saying no one wanted to see children in detention, and yet fast forward 10 years on, 15 years on, it's all happening all over again."
But Mr Dutton said the report was misleading because many of the observations it made covered the period during which Labor was in power.

And he all but ruled out the option of a royal commission.

"The response in relation to royal comission is more appropriate to come from attorney-general but I think the government’ has made its position clear," he said.

He said the current situation was “terrible” and the government was doing all it could to assist families.

“Under Labor the number of children in detention toped almost 2000,” he said. “The number is now less than 200. We are doing whatever we can to reduce that further.

He said the government’s policy of stopping the boats was working effectively to reduce the number of children in detention adding that he would not be"lectured to by people who want to misinterpret the situation."

“We can release children from the detention centres now and let me tell you if the boats start up again, the detention centres will be occupied. And that’s not something we’ll tolerate,” he said.

“The first thing I’m doing is going through and making sure – where it is possible – we can release families into the community. Absolute priority.”

He said it was difficult to promise whether all children would be released from detention within the next month because some families had one family member who had been assessed in an adverse way and it was up to the government to then “balance whether that person is risk to community.”

He said in some case, the government had offered to release women and children into the community while their father remained detained and the families had said no.

Labor defends accusations of political motivation

Meanwhile, Labor is defending the Human Rights Commission against suggestions its report into children in immigration detention is a politically motivated attack against the government.

"The government is disappointed and surprised that the Australian Human Rights Commission did not start this inquiry until 2014, considering the problem was at its most acute prior to the 2013 election," Attorney General George Brandis said in a statement.

But Labor's immigration spokesman Richard Marles rubbished suggestions the timing of the report was politically motivated.

"I absolutely, completely reject the idea that the commissioner and her work has been political, and I think that's a deeply unfair aspersion on Gillian Triggs," he told ABC Radio.

Prof Triggs will front the media in Sydney on Thursday, accompanied by medical experts involved in the report.

Tony Burke, an immigration minister in the previous Labor government, said it was naive to claim The Forgotten Children report was redundant.

Both sides of politics should take heed of its findings, he said.

"The message here is really simple - we've got a report that says the care of children has not been good enough," the Labor frontbencher told Sky News.

The Commission's recommendations

The Commission recommended that all children be released into community detention with their families or into the community on bridging visas.

It also called for legislation to be put in place to ensure children detained under immigration laws are only held for "so long is necessary for health, identity and security checks."

Further recommendations included:

  • Assessment of refugee status be commenced immediately according to the rule of law.
  • No child be sent offshore for processing unless it is clear that their human rights will be respected.
  • An independent guardian be appointed for unaccompanied children seeking asylum in Australia.
  • An independent review be conducted into the decision to approve the use of force to transfer unaccompanied children on Christmas Island on 24 March 2014.
  • All detention centres be equipped with sufficient CCTV or other cameras to capture significant incidents in detention.
  • ASIO review the case of each parent with an adverse security assessment in order to identify whether their family can be moved into the community.
  • Alternative community detention be available for children of families assessed as security risks.
  • Children in immigration detention be assessed regularly using the HoNOSCA mental health assessment tool.
  • Children currently or previously detained at any time since 1992 have access to government funded mental health support.
  • Children in detention who were denied education on Christmas Island for a year be assessed to determine what educational support they require.
  • Children and families in immigration detention receive information about the provision of free legal advice and access to phones and computers.
  • Legislation be enacted to give direct effect to the ‘Convention on the Rights of the Child’ under Australian law. 
  • An independent review of the implementation of these recommendations be conducted in 12 months.

- With AAP

The Conversation’s experts have assessed a report by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) into children held in immigration detention and its implications for asylum seeker law, policy and health.
By Elizabeth Elliott, University of Sydney and Madeline GleesonThe federal government has tabled the long-awaited Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report into children held in immigration detention. The report, which recommends a royal...