Former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has issued a statement via the Refugee Action Committee condemning the Federal Government’s response to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s ‘The Forgotten Children‘ report on children in detention.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott launched an extraordinary attack on the Commission and its president Gillian Triggs, saying they should be ashamed of such a “blatantly partisan politicised exercise” and should have sent congratulations to former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison for stopping the boats.
Fraser, who quit the Liberal Party over its harsh asylum seeker policies, says: “Enough is enough”:
The government had the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on children in detention on 11 November last year. They have tabled it on the last possible day. It is now clear that the attacks made on the Commission, especially by senior ministers, has been designed to make it easier for the government to ignore the Commission’s report.
The government’s response is a disgrace. It is based on a lie. They claim to have saved lives by stopping the boats and that the trauma inflicted on children by detaining them, is a small price to pay. They deliberately chose an inhumane way of stopping the boats.
If the Australian Government worked with our regional neighbours and the UNHCR, to process people humanely in offshore processing centres in Malaysia or Indonesia, then there would be no market for people smugglers. Refugees would be flown to their final destination. This is not supposition or hearsay. This was the policy model adopted during the exodus of refugees fleeing Indochina following the Vietnam War. It would work again.
The real question for the government is why did they choose to do this, despite the trauma and harm done to hundreds of children, when there was a decent and proven way of achieving a much better result.
The attack on the integrity of the Human Rights Commission and its President is only to be expected of this government, who uses bullying as their default tactic. The attack is consistent with the way the government has approached legal decisions that have gone against it. This government has also refused to listen to our highest Court, undermining the rule of law and ignoring International Law.
The only conclusion we can really draw is that the inhumanity inflicted on these children is part of a policy of deterrence, which the government has pursued relentlessly. Australians needs to understand that this government has chosen an inhumane path when a compassionate path was available to it.
The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) said today in a statement it strongly supports the Commission’s call for all children held in immigration detention in Australia and Nauru to be immediately released into the community:
“PHAA believes that in the wake of the report’s findings urgent action is required to protect the innocent children who continue to suffer lifelong damage as a result of Australia’s immigration detention policies. The report provided unprecedented first-hand evidence of the impact that prolonged immigration detention has on the mental and physical health of children. It also identified the impact of detention on the key developmental stages of children as infants, pre-schoolers, primary aged children and teenagers.”
“These are horrific findings and we’re certain that Australians would be appalled and distressed that these shocking incidents of harm are happening to children in our care. The personal stories of horror and hardship experienced by children in this report are heartbreaking – and yet when these vulnerable children arrive on our shores from situations of protracted conflict seeking our help, we lock them up offshore and fail to protect them from further abuse. PHAA is calling on the Australian Government to heed the findings of this report and implement its recommendations as a matter of urgency.
The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) and Maternal Child and Family Health Nurses Australia (MCaFHNA) also welcomed the report in a statement:
“This robust and evidence-based report proves what many working in health have known to be true for decades – detention will lead to lifelong negative impacts on a child’s learning, socialisation and development.“The report represents an opportunity for long overdue change. While it is pleasing that the current Government has made progress in reducing the number of children in immigration detention centres, all evidence in thereport clearly indicates that this number must be reduced to zero as a matter of urgency.
“The statistics in this report are extremely alarming. Mental illness in children is generally rare and to have it recorded at such a high level shows extraordinary things are happening.”
“Psychiatrists have seen first-hand the mental state of both children and adults, including those harming themselves and expressing suicidal intent. Indefinite detention is a completely unique situation – the harm lies in not just the detention but also the arbitrariness and the unfairness. Children in particular struggle to understand this and it creates a persistent stress and distress that is damaging and that damage can be lasting.”