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Transcript of interview: The Project, Network Ten: 29 May 2013: families at the Curtin alternative place of detention

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Families at the Curtin Alternative Place of Detention Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Interview with The Project, Network Ten

Question: The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship is Brendan O'Connor. Minister, under Australian law children are only supposed to be placed in detention as a last resort. Last year Amnesty found that Curtin wasn't appropriate to house adults, let alone children. Why are you ignoring both the law and the advice of experts?

Brendan O'Connor: We believe we're doing the right thing here in accordance with the law and in accordance with how we deal with people who've come in this manner. We need to make sure we keep families together and we want to make sure they're in not too long, so we assess them for their identity, health and security and then, as I announced recently, when I announced Curtin, we would be looking to release people either into community detention or on bridging visas so they won't be in detention for longer than 120 days.

Question: Brendan I'm a little bit confused. What is the difference between the alternative place of detention at Curtin and the detention centre?

Brendan O'Connor: The alternative place of detention is just a designated term for families. We are doing what wasn't done in the past - teachers, recreational activities, cabins that are configured for families - and that's why the name Curtin is seen in terms of the detention facility of a decade ago as a pejorative.It's not like that now, we do take into account the needs and I think we do a reasonable job. But at the same time we have to be vigilant to make assessments about security, health and identity.

Question: We've just had stories from refugees who've mental health problems after having long stays at Curtin. Given 90 per cent of asylum seekers who come here are found to be valid refugees, aren't we just creating a large number of new Australians who as well as having to adapt to a new country, have to deal with mental health issues as a result of their detention?

Brendan O'Connor: It would be the case if you keep people indefinitely or for very long periods of time you can see that, but look, I've spoken to child psychologists and other psychologists and they say to me that if they understand that they're on pathway to a different form of accommodation then the chances of them having any long term issues is negligible. It would be different I think if there was indefinite

detention or the period went too long. I accept that would be a problem, but we have to balance these competing interests between the care of people, which we are concerned about - on one hand - and indeed at the same time, security and health issues.

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