Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 10 September 1996
Page: 3120

Senator HARRADINE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. I ask the minister whether he could give us an undertaking that Xhang Meng Ling and her child will be protected. This person, as the minister would know, had been in Port Hedland. She was one of seven girls amongst 61 men and she suffered quite a lot—sexually abusive relationships and so on. She was 16 when she actually came—(Time expired)

Senator SHORT —I thank Senator Harradine for his question. It reflects his ongoing concern about refugees and people in circumstances of humanitarian need. So far as the particular case that he has raised is concerned, I am advised that in relation to the situation of Ms Xhang and her one-year-old daughter there have been a number of what have been described as very emotive claims of sexual abuse—I am not saying you are making that claim, Senator Harradine—regarding her situation but those claims have, in turn, been refuted by Ms Xhang herself. Ms Marion Le, who is Ms Xhang's migration agent, claims in her press release dated 29 August that Ms Xhang has been subjected to abuse while in the care of the department at its detention centres in Western Australia and at Villawood.

I am advised that Ms Xhang recently met with a departmental officer and, in the presence of Ms Le, Ms Xhang denied the allegations of abuse. Indeed, on the contrary, Ms Xhang stated that she had had no problems with the staff or officers at the detention centres in Western Australia or at Villawood. Ms Le also claims that Ms Xhang's treatment has been `disgraceful and would not be tolerated for an animal'. In fact, Ms Xhang's accommodation arrangements and care have, I am advised, been very carefully considered by the department to take account of her particular circumstances. She has received constant and ongoing medical attention, including access to a range of specialist nurses who have provided, at times, 24-hour care, and also social welfare.

In relation to the point made in Ms Le's press release, it appears that some of those claims are not correct. I understand she has now pursued the various review processes available to her, but I will get you a fuller report on that and come back to you as soon as possible.

More generally, in relation to claims of sexual abuse that have been made from time to time in similar circumstances, I am advised no claims of sexual abuse have been substantiated. Any incidents of physical abuse are dealt with by management or are reported to the police. The Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs takes its duty of care to detainees very seriously, especially in the case of unaccompanied women and minors. All detainees have access to centre management, and nursing and welfare staff at all times. Interpreters are always available and all unaccompanied minors are given special attention and care. Where possible, alternative accommodation and care is sought for them in the community.

In the case of adults and within the constraints of a detention environment, the department does not interfere in matters involving choice of life preferences, unless those choices contravene Australian law. Through you, Madam President, to Senator Harradine, I will follow up on the final question as to where the review process lies with Ms Xhang, but it does appear that Ms Le's press release on this is sadly astray.

Senator HARRADINE —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I was referring to my letter to the minister of 9 August to which I have had no reply. This matter is most important for the Senate, that is to say, the human rights of individuals. I believe what Senator Short has said is the departmental patter. Madam President, what I want to know is, following Senator Short's response, does he think it is appropriate to lock up, in isolation, a 16-year-old girl with 61 men? If he does think that, I would like to see him justify it. She was locked up with 61 men along with six other women and young girls. When she had a baby, she successfully appealed to be separated from the place. (Time expired) .

Senator SHORT —In response to your supplementary question Senator Harradine, yes, I am aware you did write to the minister, Mr Ruddock, on 9 August and I will take that matter up with the minister. So far as the circumstances that you quoted are concerned, there are differing versions of her situation and the situation of other women and minors in detention camps. I have given you what I have been advised is the actual situation. I will follow up the assertion that you have made and report to you on that as well. What I conveyed to you is what I understand to be the actual position.

Senator Hill —Madam President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper .