A Senate committee has today determined action is required but failed to support two Greens' bills that would stop Indonesian children being imprisoned as adults and poor fisher men being used as scapegoats for people smuggling kingpins.
"The bills seek to correct injustices in the system that have led to little fish being caught by Australian authorities while people smuggling syndicate heads continue to get away," Greens' immigration spokesperson, Sen. Sarah Hanson-Young, said.
"One bill seeks to ensure people who claim to be minors will be treated as such unless it is proven they are an adult, and keep them from being detained alongside adults. The second would restore judicial discretion to courts to impose the appropriate sentence on someone convicted of crewing asylum seeker boats.
"Nineteen groups, including the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists and every children's commissioner in Australia, backed my Fairness for Minors bill which set out procedures and time limits for charging non-citizens alleged to be ‘people smugglers.'
"The committee heard an Indonesian minor was held for 734 days before a court found they were a child. Other Indonesian children were held for 516 days, another for 616 days, another for 490 days, another for 510 days.
"The bill would have banned the use of wrist x-rays to determine ages, a highly imprecise practice that has been ruled out in other countries by paediatric medical experts, sports medicine bodies and entities such as the International Olympic Committee.
"The committee has missed a chance to fix procedural problems which have exposed foreign national children to unacceptable delays and time in custody which no Australian child, either in Australia or overseas, would hope to face.
"Despite that, it's clear legislation which replicates the Greens' bill to correct this is now on the government's agenda.
"We cannot expect Indonesian authorities to help Australia tackle people smugglers when we continue detaining their children, some of whom were doing nothing but cooking noodles for what they thought were fishing boats.
"My Migration Amendment (Removal of Mandatory Minimum Penalties) bill would have scrapped the mandatory five-year jail terms for people convicted of being asylum seeker boat crew. The committee heard those serving these sentences tend to be impoverished, illiterate fisher folk from Indonesia.
"When questioned, no Commonwealth agency could provide evidence that the mandatory minimum jail sentences are having any deterrence effect. The only statistics provided to the Committee showed the opposite.
"The Australian Greens believe the law must be amended to remove mandatory minimum jail sentences and allow the judiciary to do its job unhindered."