No Kids in Detention – now what?
11 APRIL 2016
On Sunday 3rd April, the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton gave an exclusive to the Sunday Telegraph announcing the significant news that there were no longer any children residing in Australian immigration detention centres. Dutton was celebratory and expressed his pride in having ended an era of child detention spanning almost 10 years. This was good news.
However, since this announcement, revelations have emerged that the conditions under which this claim was made are questionable. The Guardian reported that Dutton’s claim relied on a dodgy reclassification of some children being held at the Villawood Detention Centre as being in ‘community detention’. The Sydney Morning Herald later reported that in fact at least 2 children still remained in immigration detention facilities. Regardless of these specific details, it seems important to reflect on what this means and how we can move forward.
Dutton clearly wants to maintain the idea that there no longer resides children in detention facilities. This is a strong indication that a broad section of the Australian community does not support such a policy, including voters in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s electorate. Looking back even 12 months, we can see that this is a positive development in social attitudes towards people seeking asylum – if only of children. We should recognise that this announcement has only been made possible by the tireless work of refugee advocates, activists, teachers, lawyers, whistle-blowers and ordinary people who have stood up against government policy to detain children. This is a significant success.
Having acknowledged this, we need to ensure we maintain pressure to ensure that we never return to such a situation where almost 2000 children are detained, as was the case in July 2013. This starts by demanding transparency and openness around Dutton’s recent claim. Perhaps there are only a few children still in detention, and perhaps there are ‘special circumstances’, however we need to ensure that if the government is going to take credit for doing something positive, then they actually have to do it!
Even then our work is not over. In 2005, John Howard delivered on his commitment to see all children released from detention centres. Since that time we’ve seen children return to detention centres, debate in this area driven by cruelty and racism, horrific abuses perpetrated against children and adults across the detention network and legislated censorship of whistleblowers. This shows us that we cannot merely accept success without condition.
Many have welcomed Dutton’s announcement, yet called for the next step of legislation change to ensure no child is ever again held in a detention centre. Further to this, we should recognise our ultimate goal of seeing NO person held in detention facilitates, on or offshore, child or adult, having arrived by boat or plane.
Until we reach this point, this fight is not over. We may have had a success, and we should value this, but both the Coalition government and the Labor opposition remain committed to practices of cruelty that do not uphold human rights and dignity.
It at this time that we cannot lose sight of our end goal – a community that welcomes people seeking asylum with open arms and a government that has no other option but to respect this.
Written by Samuel Dariol – CAPSA Project Coordinator