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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 650


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (15:30): I rise to take note of the response from Eric Abetz to my question in relation to—

Senator Ruston interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Yes, I was just waiting for Senator Hanson-Young to finish what she was saying and then I was going to draw her attention to the fact that she should refer to Senator Abetz as 'Senator Abetz' or 'Minister'.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Of course, let me start again. I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Employment (Senator Abetz) to a question without notice asked by Senator Hanson-Young today relating to the Australian Human Rights Commission report, Forgotten Children.

I rise today to speak to the answer from Minister Abetz in relation to my question concerning the Forgotten children report, which was released, as we all know, in this place last night. I am appalled at the response from the senator in relation to this issue, as well as from the Prime Minister when he was asked questions about this report earlier today. I do not think there is anything more serious than the way a government and a parliament treat people in our care. We have a report, based on medical reports and findings and the immigration department's own documentation, that says that one in three children in immigration detention are suffering serious mental health districts, children as young as three years old are being found clinically to have depression and seven-year-old children are being prescribed sleeping tablets to deal with the mental torture they face every day in detention. These are not things that we can simply turn a blind eye to and laugh off. The response from the minister to the very serious questions I asked in this place during question time today, the laughing and jibes that came from government senators—they should be ashamed of themselves. They should be absolutely appalled by their behaviour.

This issue is by its very nature highly political. I think the Australian public are sick and tired of the politicking on. When it comes to the treatment and care of children it is time that we faced the facts that have been there for decades: the detention of children is harmful, dangerous and creates lifelong suffering. In this report is documentation of sexual abuse, physical abuse and mental torture. This is not something that should be laughed off or put on a shelf somewhere to gather dust. This should be a wake-up call to us as members of parliament. Regardless of our political colours we have a responsibility to exercise our conscience. I know for a fact that if you were to sit down and speak to every single one of my colleagues in this place none of the would want to see children in detention, but people are prepared to turn a blind eye for the political outcomes and consequences. Give it up! We have already damaged hundreds and thousands of children. We know that it does not deter people from coming to this country and asking for assistance and protection. The evidence shows that. Why are we pretending that the damage done to these children is somehow acceptable collateral damage? It is immoral. It is wrong. It needs to change. The only way it is going to change is if we stop politicking over it.

There are now fewer children in detention than there were two years ago. Good. So let us move to ban the further incarceration of these kids. Let us make sure that no other child has to suffer the mental torture that many others have had to endure before them. I wholeheartedly support the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission's report, particularly its call for a royal commission, because we know that this suffering has occurred not just under this government but under successive governments. The only way we can stamp this out is by accepting the harsh reality that it has been done wrongfully. It has been done in the name of Australians. Many Australians are appalled, and as parliamentarians we must act.

Question agreed to.