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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 89


Senator BARTLETT (3:31 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (Senator Vanstone) and the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation (Senator Ian Macdonald) to questions without notice asked by Senator Ludwig and Senator Bartlett today relating to children in detention centres and to live sheep exports.

Firstly, Senator Ludwig’s question related to children who had been taken from schoolyards or after school to be locked up in detention centres and concerns about the trauma for the children involved and indeed for those others who had to witness them being taken from the schoolyard to be detained. The key aspect in this is the ongoing reality of children being put in detention. Without commenting on the specifics of the cases that were the subject of questions today, it is fairly unlikely that these were children of asylum seekers, although I do not know that for a fact. Many of the children in detention centres, certainly in Sydney, are those of visa overstayers. The fact remains that they are children, they are still in detention and often they are there for quite a long time.

The same question of the suffering of the children arises whether their parents are in there as a result of not being successful, as yet, with a claim for refugee status or whether they are in there for some other immigration related matter. The impact on the children is still there, particularly for long-term detention. There was a case last year of children being taken away with no notice from Launceston. They were children who were part of the community and they had been going to school there. Basically, as far as their schoolmates were concerned, they just disappeared. They were locked up in Baxter, from memory.

The other fact needing to be emphasised in relation to the minister’s answer is that this is a government that tried to create the fiction that there were no children left in detention. Using the sorts of slippery words that we have come to expect from some in the government, we had statements suggesting that there were no children of long-term asylum seekers who arrived by boat left in detention on the mainland. That of course translated, in shorthand, to people assuming that there were no kids still locked up. The fact is that, from the latest figures from 9 March, which I have just received, there are 93 children in detention. There are 45 in Villawood, in Sydney; seven in Maribyrnong, in Melbourne—predominantly Pacific Islanders: Tongan and Fijian—and 12 in Port Augusta at Baxter detention centre, and they are mainly Chinese. There are also 10 children of Vietnamese descent on Christmas Island who should not be forgotten. This is part of the sophistry: because they are not on the mainland, people can say, ‘There are none locked up on the mainland and these don’t count.’ There are six Afghani children on Nauru. The detainees on Nauru, all of them asylum seekers, have been there for close to 3½ years now. There are also children in hotel and house detention.

Sorry, there is a correction—there are two children in Baxter and the other 12 in Port Augusta are in the community housing project there. I should clarify and correct the record on that. But that is still a detention environment, as I have said in this place before. The fact is that the children in harbour detention—those detained on their boat; presumably children involved in illegal fishing—foster care and hotel detention are all in a detention environment. For many of those—not all—it is for a fairly long term. That reality should be acknowledged.

In relation to Senator Ian Macdonald’s answer dealing with the live export trade, the government continues to ignore, firstly, that there is a genuine loss of jobs in the meat-processing and meatworks sector as a result of livestock going overseas. In my own state of Queensland, the meatworks near Rockhampton closed down. It was not able to reopen specifically because there was not enough livestock available as it was being shipped overseas.

Despite what the minister said, the other issue is the fact that, as estimates committee information showed, the government was aware there was repeated underreporting of deaths on board vessels going to Saudi Arabia. That almost certainly is the real reason why the Cormo Express was knocked back. The government today, in signing an MOU opening up live exports to Kuwait, said that sheep mortalities have declined to just over one per cent. There is no way you can trust those figures because there is no way of knowing whether the underreporting from the vessels is still continuing. As the minister said, that is where the figures come from. That one per cent still represents a very significant number of sheep deaths and there is still the reality of the enormous suffering involved. A few cosmetic changes are not going to hide that fact. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.