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Monday, 27 November 2000
Page: 22719

Mr SCIACCA (2:16 PM) —My question is again to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. Minister, I ask you again: when did you, your office or your department first become aware of the allegation of a 12-year-old boy being raped by his father and the boy being sold to other detainees for sex in exchange for cigarettes or money? Are you aware that during Senate estimates committee hearings last Wednesday your departmental officer told the committee that the department and you first became aware of the allegation of this incident in mid-July?

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —The fact is that, while I cannot be precise as to the nature of the dates and times upon which particular reports might be made to me by departmental officers—

Ms Macklin —This is a serious matter.

Mr RUDDOCK —I don't think it is.

Ms Macklin —What? You don't think it is serious!

Mr SPEAKER —The minister has the call. The member for Jagajaga!

Mr RUDDOCK —or complaints made in writing or allegations made to my departmental officials or their officers, I expect that when those issues are raised they will be pursued appropriately by those who have received the information. When you ask what information I have received, and you want detailed information—

Mr Crean —When?

Mr RUDDOCK —Even as to when, I will initiate a search to ascertain what information we have received.

Mr Crean —Will you come back into the House?

Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition! The minister has the call.

Mr RUDDOCK —Let me make the point I made earlier: matters have been the subject of substantial investigation by the police and by Family and Youth Services in South Australia in relation to allegations where there was specific evidence of a substantial character that required investigation. As a result of those investigations, no charges were brought and no children were taken into care. It was only as a result of further information, which my department disclosed last week to Family and Youth Services in South Australia, that a further inquiry was initiated. We take the issue of child abuse, wherever it occurs, very seriously. You will not find any want of application on our part in dealing with those matters.

Let me make one further point: I think there also needs to be a degree of care about the way in which these generalised allegations are made. There have been a lot of people in detention, some of them found to be refugees. One or two specific instances relating to specific individuals ought not to be used as a basis for generalised charges and claims which reflect upon the generality of the people who have been detained. Nor do I think it is reasonable for people who have a view about detention policy and who are seeking to unwind it to unnecessarily and inappropriately reflect upon the integrity and professionalism of officers of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs or those people with whom we contract. There is clearly a good deal of innuendo and unsubstantiated allegations about the detention centres and this seems to have a wider purpose. Where there have been specific matters of substance where people have first-hand information that warrants investigation, those investigations have been proceeded with. Where there is any suggestion of any lack of application on our part, I have arranged for those matters to be further examined.