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Parliament House, Canberra: transcript of doorstop interview: asylum seekers.

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JULIA GILLARD M.P. Shadow Minister for Population & Immigration




GILLARD: Labor’s announced three major plans in the area of asylum seekers since the last election. The first was to get children out of high security detention, the second was to return the management of our detention centres to the public sector and the third was to call for faster and fairer processing of asylum seekers. The UN Working Group today has endorsed each of those directions and it stands now as a challenge to the Government to take the steps it needs to, to get kids out from behind the razor wire, to get the management of detention centres back into the public sector and to implement faster and fairer processing.

I note that Minister Ruddock today has said that the delays in processing asylum seekers are all due to the courts - that is simply not true. Of our current detention population about half have been there for more than twelve months and a significant number have been there for more than two years and some have been there for more than three years. Minister Ruddock is always keen to take political credit in this area, he also needs to take political responsibility and if the system is running that slowly then the obligation is on him to fix it.

JOURNALIST: How would you respond to Mr Ruddock’s suggestion just now that it’s actually groups like the UN visiting which is spurring people to self harm?

GILLARD: I don’t think that that can credibly be put, self harm incidents happen regularly in our detention centres they happen on days when people are visiting but they also routinely happen on days when no one is visiting. It’s clearly an issue about the length of time that people are in detention that leads to depression and leads to self harm, the challenge for the minister isn’t to find someone else to blame, it’s to run the system faster and fairer.

JOURNALIST: You visited many of these detention centres. Have you ever seen any evidence of ‘collective depression’?

GILLARD: I’ve certainly seen evidence of listlessness and I note that the UN today said in their discussions with detainees, a constant theme was that they did not know what was happening with the processing of that claim. From my visiting of detention centres and discussions with detainees, that is a real problem. Minister Ruddock, once again, has tried to blame that on the courts and said he doesn’t fix court dates, but in my discussions with detainees they didn’t know what was happening even when the department was doing its processing and of course that lack of information, lack of knowledge about what is happening with your case does lead to depression and I think that has been pointed to by the UN rightly today.


JOURNALIST: When do we get the full Labor policy on this?

GILLARD: Labor will be making further policy statements in the coming few months, we’ve already got a substantial amount of policy out there relating to children no longer being in high security detention and the management of our detention centres being returned to the public sector. Over the coming few months we will be making further statements on mandatory detention and on processing, but we only want to do that when we’ve finished full consultation, not only with party members but with interested community members.

JOURNALIST: Will that be this year?

GILLARD: Look we’re hoping to do it in the next few months but we will be doing it in a consultative way and taking the time necessary to get that consultation done.

JOURNALIST: But you still support the principle of mandatory detention?

GILLARD: Absolutely. Labor supports the principle of mandatory detention, if people arrive unauthorised then it is necessary for them to be detained, it is necessary for the initial purposes of health, security and identity checking. It is also necessary to facilitate fast processing. That detention is not optional, it will happen to everybody, therefore it is mandatory so Labor does support mandatory detention…

JOURNALIST: …Labor invented mandatory detention, didn’t it, including detaining children? Do you regret that now?

GILLARD: Look in 1992, in response to boat arrivals, Labor did introduce mandatory detention, that’s absolutely true. What is also true is that the system ran better under Labor, there’s no doubt about that and if you speak to refugee advocacy groups they will say that’s the case. It’s only under this Government that we’ve seen the very long term nature of detention arrangements and we’ve seen the sorts of problems that that leads to. Now the challenge for all political parties is to find a way to do this better whilst maintaining the integrity of our border security arrangements. We’re prepared to pick up that challenge, the real issue is whether Minister Ruddock is prepared to pick up the challenge of doing it better and that’s the challenge the UN’s laid out today.

JOURNALIST: Quite a few of these people have in fact been rejected and are there for the duration because they don’t want to go or won’t go, the Government can’t get them to go, how should they be handled?

GILLARD: Well there’s an issue here about long term detainees who have been rejected, that’s right. As we’ve seen no further onshore boat arrivals, the nature of the current detention population is that more people are fully processed. At the end of the day if the Government says they’re processed, they’re not refugees, they shouldn’t be here, then the onus is on the government to effect removals.


GILLARD: Well if it can’t effect removals, if the Government is saying we have a detainee population we can’t remove then really the Government needs to supply the answer, what is going to happen next? Obviously you can’t just keep people in detention forever and Minister Ruddock is going to need to answer that question at some point. He hasn’t answered it to date.


JOURNALIST: How would you answer it?

GILLARD: When Labor does its policy statement we will also be addressing the problems that there have been with very long term detention arrangements.

JOURNALIST: But how should the Government be handling it then now?

GILLARD: Well I think Minister Ruddock needs to come clean firstly and say, people are in long term detention for reasons other than simply court processes. There clearly is a detainee population that’s been fully processed and the Government has been unable to remove. The Government therefore needs to tell all of us, the Australian people, what it’s going to do with those detainees. It’s not up to the Opposition to say what the Government should do in respect of the current detention centre population, as I said before the Government’s always very willing to get political credit in this area, well if you want political credit you’ve got to take political responsibility for the hardest bits of the policy.

JOURNALIST: Does the Labor Party have a policy on what should happen to a child’s parents then, if a child should be released, what should happen …?

GILLARD: Labor outlined, on Australia Day through Simon Crean’s Australia Day address, that children should not be in high security detention. Labor’s plan is that unaccompanied minors should be fostered and Labor’s plan is that there should be an extension of the alternative detention trial that there’s been at Woomera where women and children have been allowed to live under supervision in ordinary style accommodation. Now the issue here is one for Minister Ruddock, that trial was set up by his department, it’s been evaluated successfully by his department, it is talked about in glowing terms in the departmental submission to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission inquiry into children in detention and the issue therefore is if it’s such a grand success, why isn’t Minster Ruddock flowing it to the rest of the system and from my perspective the only answer to that question is belligerence.

JOURNALIST: Well he says no one’s taking up the option, they don’t want to do it.

GILLARD: Well that’s not true. I met with women and children who were in that facility when I was in Woomera, numbers in that facility have varied as you would expect because the population is being processed, and when they’re fully processed people leave. So consequently numbers can be down at particular points in time, but it’s also true to say that option has been oversubscribed at various points in time too. I think it’s an option that’s working well, the Minister’s own department has put it in its Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission inquiry submission as a grand success.

JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to detainees at other centres that have said that they would take up that option?

GILLARD: I haven’t spoken to detainees at other centres, one of the things that became apparent with the Woomera Alternate Detention Trial was that you needed to take people to see it so that they had some security about where they were going to go to next and that you know that would have to be gone through, but we are saying as a system wide change, why if this is a successful trial for getting children out of detention, and I think most Australians are concerned about the circumstances of children in detention, why doesn’t the Minister flow it to the rest of the system and issues like that, speaking to detainees about it could be handled properly through departmental processes.



For further information contact:

Julia Gillard on (02) 6277 4349 or 0417 361 637 Jamie Snashall, Adviser on (02) 6277 4349 or 0408 419 699