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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 632

Asylum Seekers

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:20): My question is to the minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Abetz. Minister, the Human Rights Commission report The forgotten children shows that one in three children in detention are suffering from serious mental health disorders, with children as young as three being diagnosed with clinical depression. There are of course hundreds of cases detailed in this report of the specific abuse of children. It is clear from the evidence that the detention of children is harmful.

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right!

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I know that not one of us in this place wants to see the abuse of children continue.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald!

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I find it extraordinary that even after such a serious report members of the government are not prepared to listen.

The PRESIDENT: Go to your question, Senator Hanson-Young.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Will the government commit to a bipartisan approach to legislating an end to the indefinite detention of children and getting the children who have been forgotten on Nauru out of there, away from harm, to ensure that no more damage is done?

Senator ABETZ ( Tasmania Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment ) ( 14:23 ): If the honourable senator were genuinely concerned about children in detention, she would be mindful of the fact that, when the Labor government came to power in 2007, there were zero children in detention on Christmas Island. There were 155 children in detention on the mainland. Children in detention when Labor came to office in 2007: zero. Children in detention when the Labor-Greens government left office in 2013: 1,342, having peaked at 1,992 under the policies that Senator Hanson-Young championed. Can I remind her not only of the numerous children in detention as a result of that—

Senator Di Natale: Mr President, I raise a point of order. I think Senator Abetz has just misled the parliament—

The PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order.

Senator Di Natale: The Greens voted against the legislation every time—every time!

The PRESIDENT: Senator Di Natale, that is not a point of order. That was a debating point. Senator Abetz, you have the call.

Senator ABETZ: The simple fact is that, on every single occasion that the Australian Greens had the opportunity, they kept the government in power that put those children into detention—and you know it. And what is more, very, very, very sadly, that is why we as a government were so committed to breaking the racket of people smuggling, that criminal activity of people smuggling, because not only did it see children ending up in detention; it also regrettably saw children ending up at the bottom of the sea. That is why we as a government are absolutely perplexed that the Labor Party and the Greens, if ever given power again, would combine to ensure that the temporary protection visa and other border protection policies that we have implemented would be repealed. When confronted with the fact of deaths at sea— (Time expired)

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:25): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Human Rights Commission report is impartial and evidence based. It draws on expert opinion and the immigration department's own medical records. Isn't it time for the government to stop its disgraceful and politically motivated attack on the commissioner, Professor Triggs, and her commission and instead focus on the report's harrowing statistics? What is this government going to do to end the abuse?

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:26): The Human Rights Commission, quite frankly, has not covered itself in glory in the way that it has dealt with this issue. At a time when children in detention were increasing by the hundreds virtually every month: 'Nothing to be seen here, move on.' When we stopped the criminal people-smuggling activities, when the children in detention were absolutely declining at a faster rate than, I think, ever before and we were getting them out of detention, all of a sudden we needed a review. Can I indicate that I personally expressed that view to the human rights commissioner, Professor Triggs. I do not think she has, with respect, done the Human Rights Commission any favours. Having said that, I am willing to accept that she is good-hearted, but I think she has been very unwise in the way that she has handled this matter. I do not think, Senator, you will do well to rely on this report— (Time expired)

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:27): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. How does the coalition government address the lifelong psychological damage that has been inflicted on the children by successive governments? It is important to note that this report talks very clearly about the damage today and for the decades previously.

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:27): Clearly, no Australian likes to see a child in detention. That is why we as a government sort to put an end to the criminal people-smuggling business., and I believe that we have gone a long way towards achieving that goal, if we have not actually already achieved it, with no successful boat arrival in the past six months. But let's be absolutely clear on this: I find it astounding that Senator Hanson-Young can make all these emotional pleas in this place; yet, when confronted with a question about people dying at sea, do you know what her answer was? 'Accidents happen.' No tear shed on that occasion, just brushed off: 'Accidents happen.' I think the words speak so much louder than her tears. (Time expired)