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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 8992

Asylum Seekers


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:25): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice, Senator Joe Ludwig. In the UK the practice of using X-rays to determine the ages of children for criminal proceedings is unlawful and indeed can lead to practitioners facing criminal charges of assault and professional misconduct. I refer to a letter available publicly that has been sent to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and the Minister for Home Affairs from peak medical bodies, including the Royal Australian College of Physicians, the Australian Paediatric Endocrine Group, the Australian and New Zealand Society for Paediatric Radiology and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists. It is dated 19 August. In this letter, which refers to the assessment of ages of asylum seekers and people facing people-smuggling charges, the doctors refer to X-rays of teeth and wrists as unethical, unreliable and untrustworthy. When will the minister take on notice these issues raised by these individuals and when will the minister— (Time expired)


Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:26): I thank Senator Sarah Hanson-Young for her question. I do recall that this is an issue she has been pursuing for some time now. While Australia has strong people-smuggling offences that apply to crew of people-smuggling vessels, minors are only prosecuted with people-smuggling offences in exceptional circumstances on the basis of their significant involvement in people-smuggling ventures or multiple ventures. No-one currently serving a sentence for a people-smuggling offence has been determined by a court to be a minor. Where age is not able to be clearly established, the person being investigated or prosecuted will be given the benefit of the doubt and returned to their country of origin without charge.

I will deal more particularly with the substantive issue raised in the question. Law enforcement authorities do investigate all persons suspected of being involved in people-smuggling, including minors. That is an important issue to bear in mind. Where there is doubt about whether a person arriving in Australia as an irregular maritime arrival is aged over or under 18 years of age and the person is suspected of committing a Commonwealth offence, the Australia Federal Police conduct an age determination process in accordance with the Crimes Act 1914. This is done with the consent of the person, the consent of a parent or guardian or, if a parent or guardian is not available, an independent adult person other than the AFP officers investigating the offence.

The government has announced improved processes to provide more certainty because the government does recognise that there are issues raised on this topic. It has improved processes to provide more certainty— (Time expired)


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:28): I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. As the government is defying the international scientific consensus on how dangerous it is to rely on these types of X-rays, the organisations listed in the previous question are refusing to participate in any type of X-rays for the government. Is it the case that the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions is relying primarily on one expert advice provided by Dr Vincent Low, who is indeed not a bone radiologist at all?


Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:29): Under the improved criminal justice measures, the Australian Federal Police do offer dental X-rays to alleged people-smuggling crew claiming to be minors, in addition to the existing processes, which will commence as soon as possible, taking steps as early as possible to seek information from the individual's country of origin, including birth certificates, where age is contested, and using interview techniques to help to determine age. Where age is not able to be clearly established, the benefit of the doubt will be given to the individual.

In making these determinations, it is true to say that the decisions about prosecutions are taken into account, with all available information, in accordance with the prosecution policy of the Commonwealth. That policy includes a wrist X-ray interpreted by an independent medical expert to determine the person's age, but any additional information about the— (Time expired)


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:30): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. As I outlined earlier, in the UK the practice of this method is unlawful. Here in Australia, medical practitioners are refusing to conduct these examinations for the government. Indeed, who is conducting these examinations for the government? If it is only Dr Low, please explain why he is not, in fact, a bone radiologist and an expert in that field.


Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Manager of Government Business in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:31): As I was explaining to Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, there is a range of factors in addition to the specific X-rays. This includes a medical expert's analysis of the wrist X-ray, statements made by the person, assessments made for other purposes and any verifiable information. I think it is necessary to put it in context with the work that is being undertaken to determine the age of the person in question during the investigative process. In addition to that, I will ask whether the justice and customs minister will take on notice anything which I have not covered in the first supplementary question, and provide any further information. I think it is more important to put the types of information taken into account in their overall context, and these include, as I indicated, that range of factors as well as the new, enhanced measures— (Time expired)