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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 10411

Mr PRICE (10:44 PM) —I want to speak in support of the two proposed amendments to the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002 that involve children and families. Firstly, I wish to congratulate the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs for closing down the notorious Juliet block. Juliet block was where asylum seekers from other detention centres were sent for alleged misdemeanours or what have you. We heard evidence that it was also a block in which a father and his three-year-old son were incarcerated for 23 hours out of every 24 for two weeks. That is a very shameful thing. It is disappointing that the deputy secretary to the department, in giving evidence, could not give a straight answer on whether Juliet block was a punishment block not only for adults but also for children. I am happy that the notorious Juliet block has now closed.

In relation to unaccompanied minors, I will never forget the donga for unaccompanied minors in Woomera that, had any half decent health and building inspector gone into it, would have been closed down for overcrowding. I totally support the proposition that we should not punish the children for what we perceive as a wrongdoing that may have been done by their parents, and we should not damage them in the process. This is what we are doing. I support the two shadow ministers in their contributions. I was very pleased to go through Maribyrnong with the shadow minister for children when the committee went there. We should not make any mistakes. These amendments will benefit children. We should not care whether those children are Jewish, Christian or Muslim or about whatever religion or colour they are. They are all God's children and we all have a responsibility to them, particularly when they are unaccompanied.

We do not have national protection laws for children, much to our shame. But we do have laws in this country that give rights to children with respect to contact and access to their parents. This is at the very heart of what the shadow minister is proposing in relation to families and family groups. The proposition that we are doing something for families by taking women and children out of detention centres and separating them from their partners and fathers has always offended me. I acknowledge that it was a positive first step, but it did not go far enough. The coalition cannot campaign on the basis of the strength of its commitment to the institution of family when it believes that, when put to the test on asylum seekers, it must have a role in compulsorily separating families so that mothers and children will not have access to the father of the family.

Christmas, as I have mentioned before, is one of the holiest days in the calendar. It is about the birth and the holy family, and the family consisted of the child, Jesus, and Mary and Joseph; not just Mary and Jesus, and not just Joseph and Jesus. We would be putting them all together as a family unit. I strongly support this. If I had a Christmas wish granted, it would be to take a TV camera into these detention centres and not to have an interviewer but to just let the women talk about their experiences of being in detention with their children and of the utter despair, dismay and depression that they suffer. Go and talk to the women in Baxter because, by and large, they have been there for a couple of years. They are utterly shattered women who are seeing their families disintegrate but are powerless to do anything about it. These amendments would do something about it. I would urge you in the generosity and compassion of Christmas to support these amendments. They will help some people and children.