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Mental health of assylum seekers

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:19): Mr President, my question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Carr. Last night the President of the Australian Medical Association stated that the system of mandatory detention is inherently harmful to the physical and mental health of detainees, particularly of children. When will the government recognise that the policy of mandatory detention severely damages those seeking our protection, not just now but for years to come?

Senator CARR (Victoria-Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:19): I thank the Senator for her question. I indicate very clearly that the government's position on mandatory detention is that it is an essential aspect of our measures in regard to border control. I would also indicate to the Senate that this is a matter that has enjoyed bipartisan support for some considerable time. The minister has made perfectly clear repeatedly that the government makes no apologies for making sure that unauthorised arrivals do not pose a health risk and that appropriate measures are taken to ensure that identity and security checks can be undertaken so that persons who do arrive in such a manner are not a risk to the community. The government is committed to ensuring that asylum seekers within the immigration detention facilities are housed in humane and appropriate conditions and are provided with appropriate services and care. We ensure that people in detention get health care and support that meets the same standards as in the wider community, care which includes support for mental health measures provided by qualified health professionals.

The government are very open about this matter. We are very accountable for the operations of the immigration detention system. However, we also acknowledge the enormous pressures that are on the network at this time. We have worked very diligently to ensure that there is a change in the culture of detention. We have delivered on it by moving the majority of children in detention into community accommodation. We have undertaken reforms to improve the processing of asylum seekers' claims. We have ensured the number of irregular maritime arrivals in detention facilities dropped by almost 2,000 since April. The government remain committed, however, to the policy of mandatory detention. (Time expired)

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:22): With all due respect, I will take the advice of medical professionals of the AMA over Senator Carr's any day. Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister for immigration makes decisions as to who is detained and who is deported including those decisions around children. The minister is also the legal guardian of any unaccompanied children that arrive in Australia. How is it that the minister can justify the conflict of interest of these two roles; deciding who will be jailed and who will be protected?

Senator CARR (Victoria-Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:22): I can indicate to the senator that the decisions about who is a refugee and the status of persons arriving here are made on the basis of proper assessment by professional officers within the department of immigration. This has been the practice for some time. It has not been departed from in any way by the actions of the minister for immigration within this government. The processes are absolutely in accordance with international legal obligations and domestic law. I do not believe there to be any evidence whatsoever that the minister has departed from those well-established arrangements, which, I might say, have served governments for many a long year within this country.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:23): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The minister is the legal guardian of a number of children as young as six who are currently detained in the Darwin detention facilities. These children are set for deportation. There is a child as young as six whose legal guardian is the immigration minister, the person deciding they will be deported. How is the minister acting in this six-year-old's best interest?

Senator CARR (Victoria-Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:23): In regard to the position, I presume the senator is referring here to the Malaysian solution-

Senator Hanson-Young: No, I'm not. Mr President, I rise on a point of order. In my question I referred to children detained in Darwin. None of those children are under the Malaysia solution.

The PRESIDENT: It is not a point of order.

Senator CARR: I can indicate to the Senate and repeat what the minister has made very clear, publicly, on many, many occasions. The minister takes his responsibilities very seriously in regard to his legal obligation as a guardian of unaccompanied minors, of children in detention centres, who are here without relatives. That remains the case. Senator, I cannot see any evidence that has been presented in any quarter which suggests it would be contrary to the position that the minister has made perfectly clear-repeatedly.

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