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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23293

Mr CREAN (2:08 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware that there are currently 200 children, many of them under the age of five, in high-security detention centres in Australia and Nauru and that these children have been detained for more than two years? Will the government release all children from high-security detention before Christmas?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I cannot verify the exact number but I will not argue with the Leader of the Opposition. There are a number. This is a consequence, of course, of the decision taken by their parents or guardians to attempt to travel to this country illegally. That being the case, the responsibility for what happens to them is, in the first instance, the responsibility of those who have chosen to try to come to this country in a way other than by joining the international refugee process or by obtaining the necessary arrangements to be held to enter this country in the legitimate, orthodox fashion.

The House will be aware, as I know the Leader of the Opposition will be aware, that for some time now—I cannot remember the precise date—the government has maintained a program for community release of children in the company of their mothers in circumstances where the families concerned have been willing to take that up. That remains the policy in relation to those held on the mainland. But I can only repeat that the decision taken by the parents of these children is the principal reason that they are in that situation. In those circumstances, with respect to the Leader of the Opposition, the observation should rather be directed to their parents and guardians rather than to the government.