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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23615


Mr LATHAM (2:08 PM) —Mr Speaker, he is still telling stories—and I will take a personal explanation at the end of question time.


The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will use the forms of the House for a personal explanation. He has the call for question time.

Government members interjecting


Mr LATHAM —I will—we will have the full story then. My question is to the Prime Minister, and I refer to his support in question time yesterday for a new level of bipartisanship in Australian politics. Will the Prime Minister now support Labor's call to have the 200 children in detention centres out by Christmas? Prime Minister, I appeal to you not just as a parliamentarian but also as a parent: surely in a decent, civilised society—



Mr LATHAM —What—parents do not matter? I appeal to the Prime Minister not just as a parliamentarian but also as a parent: surely in a decent, civilised society, no child—



The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Barker!


Mr LATHAM —Mr Speaker, I again appeal to the Prime Minister not just as a parliamentarian but also as a parent: surely in a decent, civilised society, no child should live behind barbed wire. Prime Minister, instead of just talking about bipartisanship, will you now display some?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition for that question. It is interesting that the Leader of the Opposition now feels that it is not appropriate for children to be in that situation. He did not apparently feel that in 1994 when the government of which he was a member introduced the policy.



The SPEAKER —The member for Gellibrand!


Mr HOWARD —I am advised by the department of immigration that, in 1994, 342 children had arrived illegally by boat and were held in detention in Australia. I am advised by DIMIA—


Ms Roxon —How long were they detained?


The SPEAKER —The member for Gellibrand!


Mr HOWARD —that, as at 28 November 2003—a bare five days ago—there were 73 children in detention centres in Australia—



The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Gellibrand!


Mr HOWARD —and a further 88 children in an IOM processing centre on Nauru. Back in 1994, when he sat behind the then member for Blaxland and one of his mentors as a member of that government, he was perfectly happy to let that policy go by without rebuke, let or hindrance.

I have explained in the past the basis of the policy. It invokes a sense of parenthood and parental responsibility. I can only repeat what I have said earlier: we have endeavoured to make arrangements, and continue to do so, for a situation where children can be released into the community in the company of one of their parents, consistent with the integrity of the policy that was introduced by a Labor government and continued by this government. I also repeat what I said the other day—that is, I believe that the action of parents who bring children into dangerous situations should be the subject of criticism rather than the government. The government is trying to defend a policy of very considerable integrity and something which, it is my understanding, still more or less—although it changes from day to day—has a semblance of bipartisan support.