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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 690

Senator O'SULLIVAN (QueenslandNationals Whip in the Senate) (18:31): I rise to speak on the Australian Human Rights Commission report The forgotten children: national inquiry into children in immigration detention, which was tabled here in the Senate earlier this week. I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I want to be very careful with the language that I use. It is a matter of public record that there is for some a challenge to the integrity of this report when having regard to the genesis of the report—the genesis of the idea to hold the inquiry—and indeed the decision-making journey that occurred under the architectural guidance of the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission. In the limited time available it may be best to say that during estimates hearings last September, from memory, the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission was examined in relation to the evolution of the decision-making process that led to the commissioning of the inquiry and consequently this report. The kindest possible description that could be provided regarding her performance before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee was that it was a very untidy passage of evidence and a very untidy performance when examined on some of the facts.

Essentially, the difficulties arose when the president of the commission was eventually either unable or unwilling to confirm the evolution of dates and the decision-making process that led to the calling of the inquiry. Initially, on her own evidence, she indicated that the intent to conduct the inquiry was firmed up in late 2012. She had taken up her position with the commission in June of that year. Certainly on a number of occasions, whilst her evidence moved around somewhat, she then indicated that in the early part of 2013 it was firm in her mind the inquiry had to be commissioned and—again using her own words—by June the commission itself had made a decision to conduct the inquiry.

However, of course, as we know, the inquiry was not announced until into the new government in 2014. The disturbing fact was that the president indicated, on the evidence available from the Hansard, that she had spoken with a number of Labor ministers during the caretaker period, which is most improper. But there will be an opportunity in a week and a bit from today for the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission to clear up all these issues, to be able to tidy up that evidence. It will give everyone an opportunity to form a firmer view of the details relating to the evolution

In the meantime I say that the integrity of this report remains in question for some due to the fact that it took some 15 months, almost self-evidently waiting for a change of government, to conduct an inquiry well after the peak problem that is said to have motivated the report had diminished by almost 50 per cent. My point in speaking tonight is to urge anybody who is going to give consideration to this report to approach it very cautiously, because I believe that the genesis was flawed and that therefore impacts on the integrity of the document. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.