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Introduction - Migration Amendment (Free the Children) Bill 2016

Speeches in Parliament
Sarah Hanson-Young 3 Mar 2016

Senator HANSON-YOUNG

I move:

That the following bill be introduced: A Bill for an Act to amend the Migration Act 1958, and for related purposes.

Question agreed to.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG

I present the bill and move:

That this bill may proceed without formalities and be now read a first time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a first time.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (

) ( ): I table the explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in .

Leave granted.

 

MIGRATION AMENDMENT (FREE THE CHILDREN) BILL 2016

The Migration Amendment (Free the Children) Bill 2016 seeks to amend the , to implement legal safeguards to protect children and young people from the harms of immigration detention. With the government's own medical experts, including the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, recognising that detention is deleterious to the mental and physical health of children, the need for this legislation is abundantly clear.

There are children in detention on the mainland in Australia and others have been left to languish in the detention centre on Nauru. They should be released from detention while they have their claims for protection assessed and then integrated into the Australian community so that they can get on with rebuilding their lives in safety.

Through legislative changes, the Coalition Government has already restricted people's access to protection in Australia, reintroduced Temporary Protection Visas and has removed essential procedural safeguards designed to make sure that refugees aren't sent back to face danger in their home countries. The Minister is also attempting to restrict the ways in which people seeking asylum can access Complimentary Protection. Considering all of these legislative changes, it is a small ask to see this legislation that would release children from immigration detention enacted.

Numerous reports over the years have identified the mental health effects of detaining minors in immigration detention. In 2014, the Human Rights Commission released a report entitled 'The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention' which stated "The overarching finding of the Inquiry is that the prolonged, mandatory detention of asylum seeker children causes them significant mental and physical illness and developmental delays, in breach of Australia's international obligations."

The report also found that;

  • Children in immigration detention have significantly higher rates of mental health disorders than children in the Australian community.
  • Former Labor and Liberal Ministers for Immigration agreed that holding children for prolonged periods in remote detention centres, does not deter people smugglers or asylum seekers. There appears to be no rational explanation for the prolonged detention of children.
  • The numerous reported incidents of assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm involving children indicate the danger of the detention environment.
  • At least 12 children born in immigration detention are stateless, and may be denied their right to nationality and protection.
  • Dozens of children with physical and mental disabilities are detained for prolonged periods.
  • Some children of parents assessed as security risks have been detained for over two years without hope of release.
  • Children detained indefinitely on Nauru are suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress.

The Greens have long advocated for a more humane approach to the world's most vulnerable, particularly children and families, and that is why I have introduced this Bill.

The Bill seeks to expand the residence determination process, to ensure that the Immigration Minister must, within 30 days, determine that a minor is to reside at a specified place within the community rather than being held in detention.

The Liberal Government has disingenuously stated that it considers releasing children from detention to be a priority. How can this be the case when the government is currently engaged in sending children to face indefinite detention and a life in limbo on the Prison Island of Nauru?

Importantly, the Bill expands the scope of protection afforded to minors held in regional processing centres, by ensuring that the Minister cannot affect the transfer of minors to any other country that intends to detain them, and by requiring the immediate return to Australia of any minor currently held in immigration detention offshore.

The removal of any children and unaccompanied minors from immigration detention to date is a testament to the long public campaign by key non-government organisations and concerned members of the community. This advocacy was key in bringing about change in 2005 under the Howard Government, and will play a key role in bringing about change in the future.

As a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1976 Protocol, Australia has an obligation to ensure that "No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time."

If we agree that children should not be subjected to immigration detention, we must have that enshrined within legislation - there should be no argument.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

Debate adjourned.

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