Australia 'using asylum seeker children as bargaining chips'


Scott Morrison 'using asylum seeker children as bargaining chips'

Human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs says immigration minister is using children as leverage to win passage for his temporary protection visa legislation

Children in immigration detention are being used as “bargaining chips” by the immigration minister in order to win passage for his temporary protection visa legislation, Australia’s human rights commissioner has said.


“We find it deeply offensive that children are being used as leverage, because … we are destroying children’s lives in these places,” Gillian Triggs told Guardian Australia.


Triggs, whose draft report of the commission’s inquiry into children in immigration detention has been sent to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, said Scott Morrison had an “ideological obsession” with granting temporary protection and was refusing to process refugee claims because, legally, he could only grant permanent visas at the moment.


Last year Morrison attempted to introduce temporary protection visas (TPVs) via regulation before it was disallowed by the Senate.


But legislation currently before the Senate would reintroduce TPVs, as well as removing Australia’s international protection obligations under the refugee convention from domestic law.


“The minister is using the children in detention, along with the Palmer United party, as bargaining chips to get what he wants, which is temporary protection visas. We find this deeply offensive to international law, to the rights of the child, that they are being held as a means to ensure the minister gets what he wants – temporary visas.”


Previously, the human rights commission has opposed TPVs but, Triggs said, she would accept them “with some reluctance” if it meant children were released from detention.


The average length of detention for a child in the Australian immigration system was between 14 and 15 months.


“How long can we stand on legal principle if the children are suffering? And they are seriously suffering. I think we’ve reached a position in which we feel it’s a practical matter, if the children can be released, even on a temporary visa, we’ll fight the next battle another day.”


Speaking at the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law annual conference at the University of NSW on Monday, Triggs discussed her inquiry report, the Forgotten Children, a draft of which was handed to government last month. It has not been made public yet.


On detention centre visits, Triggs said she found “unspeakably bad” conditions.


Medical experts reported to the inquiry that many children were arriving in Australia’s care traumatised from experiences in their home countries, and their conditions were worsening in detention.


“The fact of their detention and the traumatic circumstances of their parents exacerbates the situation. They will suffer for many, many years once they are released.”


Triggs said the public would find the report confronting, particularly photographs showing the use of force against children by security agents, as well as the individual stories of asylum seekers.


“There was a lovely young woman, a model and an architecture student in Afghanistan, who threw herself off the top of a building and had huge scars over her legs and arm and neck from a very genuine suicide attempt. These things were covered up by the department. So it was imperative for us to go there independently to see what the facts were.”


During the minister’s appearance before the inquiry hearings in August, Triggs and Morrison clashed heatedly over whether the conditions in detention centres were “prison-like”.


“The truth is the conditions the children and their families are being held in is far worse than any prison,” Triggs said Monday.


“There’s the lawyers’ point they have not been charged with any offence and they’ve never had their day in court, ever. They have no idea when they’re going to be getting out, little to no access to their lawyers and they can’t be visited by friends or family.


“The other less obvious point, because no one can see it, is that families are held in three-metre by two-metre reconstituted shipping containers, where they are living cheek by jowl and disease spreads. Medical experts say virtually every child on Christmas Island is sick. Mothers can’t put their babies down on the ground because it’s stone and phosphate gravel: this is far worse than any prison we could possibly operate.”


Morrison’s office has been approached for comment.

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November 05, 2014 8:11AM


AUSTRALIA should raise the number of refugees it welcomes and phase out mandatory

detention, a new report says. 

THE report, to be released in Canberra on Wednesday, calls for a fresh approach to long-term

immigration policy.

It will outline ways to deal with managing asylum seeker arrivals and the country's regional

engagement, calling for swift determination of claims, stronger work rights, and a transition away

from mandatory detention.


Senior Australian of the Year Fred Chaney, who is amongst a group of experts behind the report,

said it was important to build a framework for the future.


"The fact is the boats have stopped, (but) will the problem go away? No it won't," he told ABC

radio on Wednesday.


The report was the result of a top-level roundtable of policymakers and experts conducted under

Chatham House rules in July, including members of the Labor and Liberal parties, former

Indonesian Ambassador Wiryono Sastrohandoyo, UN officials and former parliamentarians.

ABC News

Asylum seekers offered relocation if witness statements on Reza Berati's death withdrawn: Julian


By Sue Lannin


Julian Burnside QC accepts his Sydney peace prize Photo: Human rights lawyer Julian Burnside

QC criticises the Federal Government's handling of asylum seekers as he accepts his Sydney

Peace Prize. (By Wendell Teodoro)


Prominent human rights lawyer Julian Burnside QC says asylum seekers on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) were

offered relocation to Australia in return for withdrawing witness statements about the death of Iranian detainee Reza Berati.


Mr Burnside, an outspoken critic of the Federal Government's immigration detention policies, made the claim while accepting the Sydney Peace Prize last night.


He said a confidential source told him witnesses to the death of Mr Berati were offered transfer to Australia if they took back their statements.


"My understanding is that some people in the Manus Island detention are being offered the opportunity of being taken to mainland Australia on condition they withdraw any witness statements they've made," he told the function at Sydney Town Hall.


Federal Immigration Minister Scott Morrison denied the statements made by Mr Burnside. 


"This is a false and offensive suggestion made without any basis or substantiation by advocates with proven form of political malice and opposition to the Government's successful border protection policies. The government once again rejects these claims," Mr Morrison said.


Mr Berati, 23, was killed during a riot at the Australian-run Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea in February.

Asylum seeker treatment needs radical overhaul, says policy group


It's the perfect time to rethink the way Australia handles asylum seekers, says a new report, and it recommends big changes


    Shalailah Medhora, Wednesday 5 November 2014 18.03 AEST 


A woman is transferred to Christmas Island after being rescued from a boat in distress off

Indonesia. Policymakers say the lull in boat arrivals creates a window of opportunity to talk about

asylum seekers. Photograph: Daniel Wilkins/Newspix/REX


Australia has hit the "sweet spot" in timing to change the national dialogue on asylum seekers, an

eminent group of policymakers has said.


The government's policy of stopping the arrival of boats meant the time was right to work on

future legislation, a panel of experts representing a wide range of opinion said in a report

published on Wednesday.


"We have a window of opportunity because the boats have stopped. So now there's an

opportunity for long-term policy advancement," said Travers McLeod, the chief executive officer of

the Centre for Policy Development (CPD), which organised the roundtable group along with the

Kaldor Centre for International Refugees and Australia 21.


The panel included senior Australian of the Year and former Fraser government minister Fred

Chaney, former Indonesian ambassador Wiryono Sastro Handoyo and refugee advocate Paris



McLeod said the Beyond the Boats report provided "a framework that might have staying power

over decades, not months".


But before that could happen, both parties must come together in the spirit of bipartisanship, a

prospect that Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent warned was a way off.


"This [bipartisanship] is going to be a long walk, not a short walk," Broadbent said. He said some

MPs were unwilling to shift on their policy positions on asylum seekers because they believed the

issue helped them win their seat.


"The public is faced with a world where the ears of your [elected] representatives are completely

deaf to your message [on asylum policies]," Broadbent said.


The report recommended ending mandatory detention, increasing the humanitarian intake to at

least 25,000, processing asylum seekers in their home countries and continuing regional dialogue

on the issue.


The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, told Brisbane radio 4BC on Wednesday that increasing

the humanitarian intake would "cost the equivalent to building three children's hospitals in



"[It] would cost roughly more than $3bn over the budget and the forward estimates. At a time

when we are trying to reduce debt and reduce deficits, whether Australians think that that is where

we should put more than $3bn as opposed to other priorities, well they are the judgements that

are made in a budgetary context," Morrison said.


Refugee advocate Pamela Curr said the government could find the money if it wanted. "It is

spending around $10bn on stopping people from coming here," she said. "A tiny proportion of that

could be spent on increasing the humanitarian intake."


The report makes special note of the Coalition's reintroduction of temporary protection visas

(TPVs). The migration and maritime powers legislation amendment bill, which contains a clause

on TPVs, was introduced to parliament in September. It has the in-principle support of the Palmer

United party, but Labor and the Greens are against it. Its success depends on it passing the

Senate with the help of crossbenchers.