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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 70

Senator LUDWIG (2:12 PM) —My question is to Senator Vanstone, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Can the minister confirm that officers of the compliance section of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs are currently conducting raids to pick up the children of suspected overstayers from their schoolyards? Can the minister also confirm that schoolchildren as young as six are being grabbed from schoolyards in front of friends and teachers and are being immediately transferred to Villawood Detention Centre? Is the minister herself completely satisfied with the manner in which her department is conducting these schoolyard raids?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —I thank the senator for his question. I have seen some reports in the paper about a number of alleged raids that have taken place. My advice is that the number is not correct. My advice is that over the last couple of weeks there have been two instances in New South Wales schools. I was advised verbally that there is normally an arrangement that the union is notified. I am not at all sure why the union think they should be but nonetheless that is normally complied with, and was not, I am told, at least in one instance. Nonetheless, the proposition put to me that children were taken from a schoolyard in front of other children is not correct. In relation to one child, the child was detained after school hours. In relation to another, the normal procedure was followed for schools—which is not to say the other was not, because it did not relate to a school; it was out of a school—whereby the principal was contacted. It happened to be an acting principal at the time and then the principal came. People from the school asked for the children to be brought out of a class. If you wish to create the impression that there are immigration officers running around snatching children from schools, good luck to you, because sooner or later—and I hope it is a lot later, Senator—your party will be in government and you will have to work with the people that you so malign at this point. I hope it is a very long time. In fact, I hope the people you are maligning at this point are not there.

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! We would like to hear the answer.

Senator Chris Evans —You’re responsible here.

Senator VANSTONE —You’ve figured that out, have you? Good.

The PRESIDENT —Minister, ignore the interjections. Senators will come to order.

Senator VANSTONE —As to the question of children at other times, I ask you to consider the proposition that there are occasions when parents are separately taken into detention during school hours. If you want to put the proposition that we should let children go home to an empty home or leave them without anyone in the home so that, if something happens when they are catching the bus home, there is nobody home, and we know that and we do not do anything about it, then you market that proposition. But it is not my view. There was one circumstance where some children were taken to Villawood and the mother indicated that alternative arrangements would be made and were made. Am I happy with those alternative arrangements at the mother’s request? No.

Senator LUDWIG —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, given your answer, have you or your department given any consideration whatsoever to the immediate and longer term effects of the circumstances that you have outlined where children are picked up after school—whether with a guardian or not when the immigration department decides to effect the grab by the compliance officer? Are any psychological or emotional effects that the children might suffer from these types of compliance systems taken into consideration? Are the teachers or whoever might witness these incidents made aware of the situation so that they do not suffer any psychological or emotional damage as well?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) —As I indicated, the normal process is to at least go through the school. They do not just roll up at a school and select children that we believe need to be reunited with their parents. That is what is happening here—they are being reunited with their parents. We work with the school authority to do that. There are some circumstances that might present themselves that could be potentially very difficult. One would be where a parent was unlawful but the child was not. That does happen. It has happened before, and the parents have chosen to have the children with them in detention. That is the parents’ choice; they are free to do that. Where they do not choose that, I am advised that in most cases they make satisfactory arrangements that suit them. In most cases, I would say, the department of immigration should accept what arrangements parents want to make. (Time expired)