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Minister and Shadow Minister visit detention centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru; ACOA wants increase in aid budget.

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Tuesday 5 February2002


Minister and Shadow Minister visit detention centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru; ACOA wants increase in aid budget.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Official acc ounts of conditions and morale among asylum seekers in Australia's offshore detention camps have been challenged this morning.


A report, from the first Australian journalist to visit a camp on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, says detainees have malaria, suspected TB and typhoid fever and have staged hunger strikes and violent protests since arriving. However, the Immigration Minister, on his return from an inspection visit to Manus Island and the other Pacific Solution detention centre on Nauru, has declared both facilities satisfactory.


Peter Lloyd reports.


PETER LLOYD: For Philip Ruddock, it was his first visit to the two detention centres which make up the so-called Pacific Solution. One on the PNG island of Manus, the other on Nauru. At both centres the Minister came face-to-face with the Iraqis and Afghans who want to come to Australia.


PHILIP RUDDOCK: They were anxious to thank me for being there and anxious to put in the best light that they could the claims that they believe they have.


PETER LLOYD: There was no independent verification of what occurred during the visit to either facility since the media was barred from joining the tour, however a Sydney Morning Herald report suggests there are problems at Manus Island with more malaria cases than the Government acknowledges and that hunger strikes have been carried out by detainees who were told they were being shipped to Australia, not PNG.


Also on the visit was Shadow Immigration Minister, Julia Gillard. Perhaps mindful of division within ALP ranks over detaining asylum seekers, Mr Ruddock's opposite number chose her words very carefully.


JULIA GILLARD: I saw no evidence of protest action or hunger strikes. When we met with, or when I accompanied Minister Ruddock and he met with asylum seekers and their representatives.


PETER LLOYD: Describing conditions as primitive, Julia Gillard again declared the Pacific Solution not sustainable in the long term.


JULIA GILLARD: I think you've got to wonder about the long term sustainability of it and its merits as a policy.


PETER LLOYD: The merits of the policy are also being questioned by the aid community which is now worried that Australia's overseas aid budget could be cut to help pay for maintaining offshore detention centres.


The co-ordinating body of over 90 Australian non-government organisations working in the field of overseas aid and development is the Australian Council for Overseas Aid. It's Executive Director is Graham Tupper, who's calling for an increase in the aid budget.


GRAHAM TUPPER: And the real concern over the diversion of asylum seekers to the Pacific Islands which we believe is causing problems in the Pacific. We're also concerned that the aid program funds are being used to provide inducements to Nauru for accepting asylum seekers.


PETER LLOYD: And you believe that's a misuse of that money?


GRAHAM TUPPER: Well we believe there are better uses of that money because the government has gone down a track of focussing the aid program quite well on poverty reduction and there are many things that can be done with $30 million, including reaching some of the basic education goals that the aid program has set for itself.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Graham Tupper from the Australian Council for Overseas Aid ending that report from Peter Lloyd. Our apologies for the poor mobile phone quality - it was in Australia.