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Refugee u-turn -

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Former Australian Human Rights Commissioner Sev Ozdowski discusses the Gillard Government asylum
seeker policy.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: On asylum seeker policy, there are calls tonight for a return to the
Pacific Solution from an unlikely source. Sev Ozdowski was Australia's Human Rights Commissioner
from 2000 to 2005. In that role, he headed a landmark investigation that prompted the Howard
Government to abolish mandatory detention for children. He's told 7.30 he believes the Pacific
Solution is preferable to the Gillard Government's current approach.

SEV OZDOWSKI, FMR HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER, 2000-2005: The key issue is that we relax our border
protection policies so we issued in a way an invitation to people around the world and say to them,
"Listen, if you come to us, we will be not as harsh as the previous government was." So when you
look at the refugee situation around the world, the numbers are going down. But we are attracting
more of them and we are attracting more of them mainly because we've got rid of our Pacific
Solution and we said, "Come on, we'll look after you."

LEIGH SALES: To be clear, are you suggesting that a return to the Pacific Solution would be
preferable?

SEV OZDOWSKI: At least when we were our detention centre in Nauru, we were able to control the
conditions in the detention centre. If we send them to Malaysia - and there was enough information
in the last few days on TV about the quality of detention in Malaysia - I think it'll be much worse
solution.

LEIGH SALES: Does it surprise you to hear yourself even saying, "Well, the Pacific Solution, maybe
it was better than what we're currently looking at?" Did you ever imagine that that day would come?

SEV OZDOWSKI: No, no. I think it's extremely disappointing. I think it's, however, a pragmatic
response in the current circumstances.

LEIGH SALES: It's nearly seven years since your landmark report into children in detention. How do
you think things compare today to what you were witnessing then?

SEV OZDOWSKI: I think they are as bad as they were before. It's in a way enormous disappointment to
me that after initial changes which aimed at improving the deal for children in immigration
detention, we return back to the same which we saw seven years ago.

LEIGH SALES: Why do you think things have crept backwards? Because as you say, there were
significant changes made off the back of that report.

SEV OZDOWSKI: Well, it relates to the number of people who are coming to Australia now. At the
moment we've got almost 7,000 people in immigration detention. During the peak of Howard
Government, we had 3,500. So we've double the number of people, so Government is panicking and is
trying to do something about it.

LEIGH SALES: You spent about two years investigating the effects of detention on children. What
effect does it have on them?

SEV OZDOWSKI: Tragic. Basically what's happening: children are detained for very long periods of
time. The longest a child spends in Australian immigration detention was five years, five months
and 20 days. I remember that case. Then they are missing enormous opportunities because access to
schooling is inadequate. Then quite often the families are breaking down because there not
traditional roles for man and for woman anymore, and quite a significant number of children are
acquired mental illnesses under the trauma of immigration detention. And what it really means is
that it will take a long time before they recover and in some cases they be whole life dependent on
our welfare system.

LEIGH SALES: What sort of mental illnesses and what percentage of children had them?

SEV OZDOWSKI: It's difficult to say because I didn't do a survey of all children, but I saw
children self-harming, I saw children going into razor wires, I read reports of attempted suicide.
I, in case of one child, saw 20 reports from state Child Protection Authority saying that the child
got to be released with parents because of the symptoms child developed which were not being able
to be treated in detention and basically the Department of Immigration didn't act on the case.

LEIGH SALES: How would we know whether or not those sorts of situations are occurring at the
moment?

SEV OZDOWSKI: Well, the whole problem is we don't know. And you need to have a proper inquiry with
proper judicial power to go into immigration detention centres, to call Serco officials,
immigration officials to give evidence, to go to subpoena immigration departments documents to
establish it. Therefore I was calling on Human Rights Commission to reconstitute the inquiry and to
have a look really what's happening there.

LEIGH SALES: So a second full-scale inquiry similar to ... ?

SEV OZDOWSKI: Very much so. Very much so. Because you see, the inquiry is not only putting under
microscope what's happening in immigration detention, it also informs Australian public about
what's happening over there, so it's having an impact on public opinion. And I think it's very
important that we as a society know what's really happening in immigration detention centres.

LEIGH SALES: Thankyou very much for joining us.

SEV OZDOWSKI: Thankyou.