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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 3914

Children in Detention

Dear Dr Jensen,

Thank you for your letter of 9 October 2015 concerning two petitions submitted for consideration by the Standing Committee on Petitions, in relation to the Australian Government's immigration detention policies, in particular as they affect children (petition numbers 1059/1549 and 1060/1550). I appreciate the time you have taken to bring these matters to my attention.

The Government views immigration detention as an essential component of strong border control. Detention is not limited by a set timeframe but is dependent upon a number of factors, including identity determination, progress with visa status resolution and individual circumstances relating to health, character or security matters.

Immigration detention is subject to both administrative and judicial review, and to full parliamentary scrutiny for accountability. The length and the conditions of detention are subject to regular review by senior Department of Immigration and Border Protection officers and the Commonwealth Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is required by the Migration Act 1958 to assess the appropriateness of the immigration detention arrangements for each person detained for more than two years. The Department sends the Ombudsman a report relating to each person in detention for more than two years, and every six months thereafter.

The Department is aware that studies in recent years have highlighted that detention has an adverse impact on children and families and the need to minimise the length of time that people spend in detention. As a result, most children live in the community, either through the grant of Bridging visas E (BVEs) or through community detention arrangements, while they await the resolution of their visa status. Community detention provides support to families and individuals with vulnerabilities, such as unaccompanied minors.

Children living in community detention are included in the Ombudsman's reviews as it is technically a form of detention, and this accounts for the vast majority of children in detention.

A small number of families with children are detained within immigration detention facilities in Australia. Where families and children are detained in facilities, they are accommodated in the least restrictive environment possible. They also have access to services, support and care according to assessed needs.

Wherever possible, family unity is maintained, given the primary role of parents and guardians as decision makers and care providers for their children. As with all placement decisions, family arrangements remain subject to multiple variables including operational, capacity and security requirements. For example, a family may live together in a detention facility because a parent is not eligible for community detention or the grant of a BVE.

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 Department engages with the National Children's Commissioner regularly in relation to children's issues. The role of the Commissioner is to focus on promoting the rights, well-being and development of children and young people in Australia. The Commissioner also has a broad advocacy role to promote public awareness of issues affecting children, conduct research and education programmes, consult directly with children and representative organisations as well as monitor Commonwealth legislation, policies and programmes that relate to children's rights, well-being and development.

Thank you for bringing these petitions to my attention.

Yours sincerely

from the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Mr Dutton