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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 8074


Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (18:30): I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

As Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee I rise to speak on the committee's report into the detention of Indonesian minors. This matter was referred for inquiry on 10 May 2012 to examine the detention of Indonesian minors in Australia and, specifically, whether there are currently any Indonesian minors detained or imprisoned in Australia and whether such detention has occurred in the past. The committee received 29 submissions and held a public hearing in Canberra on 24 August 2012. We heard evidence from a range of lawyers, legal bodies, academics, health professionals and individuals who had direct knowledge of the issues raised and, in some cases, had acted on behalf of minors in detention.

The committee agrees with the findings of the Australian Human Rights Commission in its recent report Age of Uncertainty—on a similar subject—that many Indonesian nationals, some of them likely to have been as young as 14, were detained or imprisoned for inappropriate periods in Australia between 2008 and 2012. The committee supports the Human Rights Commission's key recommendation in that report that all individuals detained on suspicion of people-smuggling charges who claim to be minors should be treated as minors until they are determined by an Australian court to be an adult.

The Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee's majority report makes seven recommendations in relation to individuals suspected of people-smuggling offences who claim to be minors. These include: removing from the Crimes Act and Crimes Regulations the use of the discredited wrist X-ray as a prescribed procedure to determine age—given evidence raising serious doubts about their accuracy and reliability—subject to advice from the Office of the Chief Scientist; formalising arrangements between the Indonesian and Australian governments to speed up the gathering of evidence in Indonesia relating to the age of individuals detained in Australia under suspicion of people-smuggling offences who claim to be minors; providing consular assistance and notification to the Indonesian Embassy and relevant consular officials as soon as practicable when an Indonesian individual in detention claims to be a minor; informing Indonesian crew members who claim to be minors of their right to contact family and actively assisting them to do so; and reversing the burden of proof in age determination hearings so that the prosecution must establish that the person was an adult at the time of the offence.

It is clear that between 2008 and 2012 a significant number of young Indonesians detained in Australia were subjected to arbitrary detention; housed in adult facilities with people convicted of murder and, in some cases, paedophilia; and separated from their families for significant lengths of time. And, despite organisations and individuals raising these concerns, the government and its agencies failed to act in a timely way, leaving these children in prison. In my view and in the view of my Greens and committee colleague Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, this represents a shameful failure by the Australian government, over a period of years, to apply the same legal protections to Indonesian minors that we would, in all righteousness, demand for young Australians.

In light of the compelling evidence before the committee my colleague Senator Hanson-Young and I made a further 14 recommendations, including the appointment of a legal guardian to represent those claiming to be minors and the provision of legal protection in the form of a full-time independent legal aid representative stationed on Christmas Island. In order to make proper amends, the Australian Greens recommend that the government undertake a review of all cases since 2008 where Indonesian minors have been detained on suspicion of people-smuggling charges and that a full apology be offered to those individuals and appropriate compensation be provided. In order to achieve this, those individuals must be apprised of their right to receive compensation, and appropriate administrative measures must be set up to enable that to occur.

Due to the conditions in which some of these minors were held—they were in adult prisons, they were among adult prisoners, they were far from their families and, in many cases, their families had given them up for dead and had no idea that they were alive and detained or imprisoned in Australia—many of these young people have experienced psychological trauma and have returned home, or will return home, with enduring scars. The Australian Greens recommend—and, in my view, both justice and compassion demand—that the Australian government provide culturally appropriate support for these young people to help them heal, to overcome the experience that they have had and to re-integrate with their communities when they return home.

Finally, on behalf of the committee I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those persons and organisations who made submissions to the inquiry. We are grateful for their input and generosity. The quality of our findings and the quality of the end report rely on the generosity and input of those people who are willing to assist us with their submissions. I would also like to thank the staff of the secretariat for their usual diligence, patience and careful work. I commend the report to the chamber.

Question agreed to.