Subjects: Asylum seekers, children in detention, Manus, Pontville, ACT Liberals.
CHRISTINE MILNE: As you would be aware the UNHCR report is out today and it says exactly what the Greens have been saying for a long time. And that is Australia's cruel policy is completely contrary to our international obligations. We want to be a country which shows compassion towards refugees. We want to be a country that can stand with our heads held high in the international arena, and that is uphold our obligations under international law.
Last week I went to the detention centre at Pontville where 127 14 to 17 year-old boys, unaccompanied, are being held behind high fences. Labor said they wouldn't keep children in detention and now they are and they're in a race to the bottom with the Coalition. As we've heard Tony Abbott and the Coalition want to become crueller and crueller. We need to actually rethink the way we treat refugees because this is about what sort of country we want to live in, how we want to care for people, how we want to make sure we are a fair and just nation in a global context.
My colleague Sarah Hanson-Young has just come back from visiting the detention centre at Manus Island and she will speak about that in a moment. But just to say last year in the Parliament the Greens stood firm. We stood up for international law. We stood up for the rights of refugees. We said what we needed to do was to put money into Indonesia so that refugees could be assessed as quickly as possible and given a safe pathway and not be forced into the position of choosing to get on boats. We pointed out the violations to international law and now it's all coming to pass and the real challenge to both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition is what are you going to do about it? How can Australia step up to the UN Security Council? How can we host the G20 when we clearly are defying our obligations under international law?
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: As Christine has mentioned and as some of you already know I spent last week on Manus Island. I saw the conditions of the camp there, I spoke to people who worked there, all the different service providers and the refugees who have been kept in a abhorrent conditions on the island. The UNHCR report as released today confirms everything that I saw with my own eyes. It confirms that this is not a suitable place to be detaining vulnerable refugees. One of the most disappointing things about the trip was that I was banned from using my camera, banned from using my telephone and had all of those items confiscated from me. I said that I was happy not to take photos of people, just photos of the facilities and of course the conditions are so bad that the Government did not want that photographic evidence to be shown. So what I do have however is pictures from children who are detained there and this shows through a child's eyes just how bad the situation is, the desperation, the sadness and the distress. I had 7 to 17 year-olds talking to me about the horrors of hearing about people self-harming, attempted suicide, the fact that they can't go to their parents when they're upset because their parents are already distressed. One of the children's pictures here talks about the fact that his mother is crying and that is what I heard from the children over and over again, that their parents are just in total distress.
This policy that both the Labor Party and the Opposition have installed is robbing children of their childhood. It is what the UNHCR report is most concerned about, it's what the Greens are most concerned about and it's time that we brought these children and their families here to Australia and started looking after them and caring for them, not punishment them further.
JOURNALIST: Can you describe some more of what we're seeing in the pictures?
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Sure, the one thing that all of the children, I had several meetings with people, various different groups in detention, and I actually managed to have a meeting separately with the children which, amazing but also quite distressing in itself hearing their stories and their questions. The main question and this is reflected here is why are they the ones who are being punished and when am I going to take them back to Australia? This picture is about every time they see a plane in the sky the children start crying and asking if that plane is going to pick them up and take them out of the prison and bring them to Australia. This one is obviously about the children being upset about their parents and how distressing it is for children to see their parents upset. This little girl, 12 years old, she's drawn a picture of herself, she's obviously crying, she's on the island and she can't go to school and she just wants to be able to go to school. She told me she was to be a doctor. This is the type of situation that this detention centre is currently in and the conditions mean that children are seeing things that children should never see. This one talks about the fact that children are witnessing self-harm, attempted suicide and absolute depression of the adults. The problem is in this detention centre and the UNHCR report goes into this, the family camp and the single adult male camp are right next door to each, they are virtually the same camp, they share facilities together and the impact is that very young children are seeing very distressing situations of the adults demanding the conditions be improved and obviously that is lifting the level of unrest. So it's pretty disgusting. During the Howard years that was one of the biggest problems, was keeping family groups together with single adult males. This Government said that they would ensure that families are kept separately, that families would be put in more appropriate detention and more appropriate centres, all of these photos, all of these pictures prove that that is just not happening.
JOURNALIST: Could I ask either of you to respond to Scott Morrison's comments today about Sri Lanka, the fact that the Coalition believes it's safe and that the Coalition would return all boat arrivals to Sri Lanka before hearing their claims for asylum?
CHRISTINE MILNE: I'll make an initial comment and then Sarah may wish to comment. I was in Sri Lanka last year and I can tell you that that is not the view that I have of what's going on under the Rajapaksa government in Sri Lanka. People are disappearing in white vans, never heard of again, there is also considerable view that the Rajapaksa brothers are running the country as a, almost a dictatorship in terms of what's going on there and there are also questions to be asked about the Sri Lankan navy and the corruption that well may be occurring in terms of which people seeking asylum are actually getting past the navy and which ones aren't and why. So I think I would take much more strongly the views of Amnesty International and other human rights activists than the Coalition.
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: That's all I have got to say. I believe what Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say the conditions are over Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott any day.
JOURNALIST: And what about the towing back of boats? They say they can turn around any boat outside Australian territorial waters.
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: Well of course this just goes along the path of the Coalition and Tony Abbott prepared to do anything including illegal acts in order to continue their get tough, get cruel, get mean race to the bottom on refugees. It simply can't be done, it can't be done legally, it can't be done safely and no one who has a humanitarian bone in their body would see it done.
JOURNALIST: What do you mean by illegal acts? It has been done before.
SARAH HANSON-YOUN: It's a breach of international law.
JOURNALIST: Back on Manus Island can you give us an idea of privacy issues that the men and women there face?
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: The conditions themselves are so bad that even refugees don't have access to privacy in their bathrooms. In the single adult male camp there are five men sleeping in one small tent crammed in together, no air-conditioning, it's pretty stifling. I sat in one of the tents with them for quite some time and it was a relatively cool day and yet it was over 35 degrees in the tent. But the worst thing is that these men can't even go to the toilet in private, the Government is refusing to put doors on the toilets in the men's bathrooms. And it just adds to the entire dehumanisation of them as human beings, as vulnerable refugees and the way this camp is being run.
JOURNALIST: I understand you're asking for a halt to all processing of children, what do you think should happen to the children currently there?
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: I think the children's claims should be processed, I don't want to halt the processing of their claims, but I don't believe children should be there, we shouldn't be sending any more children, in fact I don't believe we should be sending anybody there while these conditions are so bad. But the children and families who are currently on Manus Island must be returned to Australia.
JOURNALIST: Wouldn't that encourage more children, or families to bring their children with them on these dangerous journeys if they knew that they were going to get processed faster?
SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: The fact is that the majority of children and families who have arrived by boat since August 13 are in Australia having their claims process. So these people have been chosen for unforeseen reasons to be the ones that are punished. Bringing them to Australia in line with the rest of the people who are on many of the same boats as them. It doesn't encourage anybody else but it does mean that Australia is doing what is right under not just international law but in terms of basic ethics and morality, you should not be detaining children and using them as examples of punishment. And I guess the only other thing to add to that would be last night a boat of over 130 asylum seekers arrived yesterday. Locking children up in Manus, stealing their childhood, humiliating them, hasn't stopped anybody taking a boat.
CHRISTINE MILNE: I just want to make a comment on one other matter if I may. News has just come through that Zed Seselja is going to challenge Gary Humphries for the preselection for the Senate in the ACT. I have to say what we are seeing here is a race between two Liberals as to who can sack the greatest number of public servants in the ACT following the election. That's what this preselection will determine. Equally on social policy which one of them will back Tony Abbott on being on the wrong side of history when it comes to marriage equality? So let's keep an eye on the extent to which the conservatives go even further to the right in terms of the preselection in the ACT and for public servants they'll be wondering just how many will be gone in the event of an Abbott victory.