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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 3913

Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme Funding

Children in Detention

Dear Dr Jensen,

Thank you for your letter of 9 October 2015 regarding four petitions submitted for consideration by the Standing Committee on Petitions, concerning the Australian Government's defunding of the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme (petition numbers 105811548, 1061/1551 and 1087/1580); and children in immigration detention in Australia and in the Nauru Regional Processing Centre (RPC) (petition number 1063/1554). I appreciate the time you have taken to bring these matters to my attention.

On 31 March 2014, the Government withdrew taxpayer funded immigration assistance under the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme (IAAAS) for all illegal arrivals (by boat or plane) seeking Australia's protection. This includes those yet to start a protection process or merits review process. Lawful arrivals will continue to be able to access the scheme to lodge a protection application but not for review applications, to encourage the provision of full, personal and accurate claims as early as possible in the primary application process.

Removing access to the IAAAS removes an incentive to come to Australia illegally. Those who have arrived illegally may source their own privately engaged migration agent at any time, including pro bono assistance.

To assist asylum seeker applicants to engage effectively with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Protection Application Information and Guides (PAIG) have been developed. PAIG materials are publically available documents available on the Department's website at: http://www.border.gov.au/paig/. These materials provide clear instructions on the various stages of the protection application and assessment process The Government will provide a small amount of additional support to those who are considered vulnerable, including unaccompanied minors.

The Government is committed to providing appropriate conditions for people held in immigration detention, especially vulnerable groups such as children and families. It has always been the Government's policy that children are accommodated in the least restrictive environment possible.

As at 30 September 2015, there were fewer than 97 children who arrived as illegal maritime arrivals in held detention in Australia, compared with a peak of 1,992 children in July 2013 The Government is working to reduce this number even further, although in some cases there are national security or character issues that might be a barrier to the placement of their family in the community. Cases are reviewed regularly and further releases into the community are anticipated. The current figure also includes children who have been brought from Nauru to Australia temporarily so they or a family member can undergo medical treatment. These children and their families will be returned to Nauru for regional processing once that treatment is concluded.

From 5 October 2015, the Government of Nauru extended the existing open centre arrangements in the Nauru RPC to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Transferees are now free to come and go from the RPC at any time. This freedom of movement enables transferees to engage with and develop relationships in the Nauruan community. The Australian Government welcomes this development. This change is being supported with additional safety, security and law enforcement measures. The Australian Federal Police has an ongoing role in providing advice and capacity building to the Nauru Police Force, particularly in the area of complex investigations.

Following its decision to expedite the processing of refugee claims, also announced on 5 October 2015, the Government of Nauru anticipates that most transferees, including children, will receive a refugee status determination shortly. The remaining cases will be resolved as soon as practicable. such as for transferees who are temporarily out of Nauru for medical treatment. The Australian Government continues to support the Government of Nauru through the funding of contracted service providers to support the hand down process and deliver settlement services to refugees in Nauru.

Thank you for bringing these petitions to my attention.

Yours sincerely

from the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Mr Dutton