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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6427

Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (17:22): I thank the member for Calwell and I acknowledge her very real interest, particularly in the detention facility in her electorate, the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation facility, which she referred to. That is a centre which has changed its role over the last 18 months. With the release of children and families into the community, we have changed the role of the MITA. The member for Calwell is a very active visitor to that centre and has engaged very closely with the community to build the links that she referred to and to build understanding between the community and the people held in that centre. She is a very popular visitor to the centre as well as, I am told, very effective on the football field at the centre in particular.

I would also like to acknowledge the role of the honourable member as chair of the parliament's Migration Committee. She is conducting a particularly important inquiry at the moment on migration and multiculturalism with her colleagues. Also, I recognise her role as parliamentary co-convenor of Parliamentary Friends of Multiculturalism, which she founded together with the honourable member for McMillan.

In relation to the honourable member's questions—yes, I agree—the community placement program has been a successful one; frankly, I am very proud of it. I will take this opportunity to thank the members of my department who have worked very hard to see it implemented. It is an ambitious program.

When I announced in October 2010 that we would see the majority of children into the community by July 2011 there were many people who questioned whether that could be achieved. It sounds easy sourcing the accommodation and sourcing the carers but it is not. I particularly place on record in the House my thanks to First Assistant Secretary Kate Pope and her entire team. My thanks also go to the Red Cross and other service providers who assist the government in delivering that program.

I decided very quickly when I became minister that this was an appropriate thing to do and I actually decided on a visit to Christmas Island. When I visited families at the detention facility on Christmas Island and looked at the children in that centre, I thought there has to be a better way of doing this. A month later we announced the community detention program. It is one that has worked well. It has had the odd occurrence of people in the community who have had behavioural incidents. There have been some difficult decisions I have needed to make about those but, by and large, it has been very successful.

In order to answer the honourable member's question, since October 2010, 4,014 people have been approved for community detention. That includes 2,151 adults and 1,863 children—among them 800 unaccompanied minors. Of course, many of those people have gone on to receive protection visas.

In relation to community detention, as we speak today, there are currently 1,914 people in the community or transferring into the community. Of these, 672 are children, including 173 unaccompanied minors in or transitioning into the community program. That means that 66 per cent of all asylum seeker children are currently held in the community. That is a reduction from a couple of week ago, when we hit 71 per cent. It is a reduction because of course the figure is impacted at both ends. At one end by arrivals—when we see an increase in arrivals, particularly of children, that reduces the proportion in the community and, at the other end, by protection visa grants. When a protection visa is granted to a child, that child comes off the community program, becomes a permanent resident and is not counted in the community detention figures. However, we do have 346 children remaining in detention.

In relation to the honourable member's question about the amount of time spent by children in detention before being transferred into the community, that figure has come down. As we speak, any child who arrived in February or before is now being held in the community, if they are eligible. There is a very small number of children in relation to security cases, cases of behavioural concern and there are a number where I do have some concerns for the child's wellbeing because of a range of complicated factors. But everybody who arrived before February is in the community. I have run out of time to talk about Homestay. I can say there are currently 20 people in Homestay arrangements. If the honourable member wants to take another opportunity to ask me about Homestay again, I will do my best to answer her questions.