NATIONAL AFFAIRS by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Human Rights Commission's partisanship exposed
, February 28, 2015
The release of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)’s report on children in immigration detention is a deeply flawed attempt to use the plight of children in immigration detention to attack the Commonwealth government’s policy of off-shore processing of illegal boat arrivals.
AHRC president Gillian Triggs
While conditions in immigration detention are in some respects unsatisfactory, the conditions in which these children lived before setting out for Australia were far worse, and successive Australian governments have tried to ensure that adequate levels of food, clothing, nutrition, education and safety are available to these children.
The AHRC has ignored this reality.
Where parents are also in detention, the government has done the correct thing by keeping families together, even if this means that children are kept in detention.
And responsibility for their detention falls squarely on those people, including parents, who put them in unseaworthy boats, to attempt the hazardous sea voyage from Indonesia to Christmas Island.
In its report, under the heading “Asylum-seeker policy in context”, the AHRC claimed that the surge in boat-people coming to Australia in recent years was the result of “tumultuous global and regional conflict and persecution”. This is utterly untrue.
The years 2012-13, when asylum-seeker numbers jumped, were times of relative peace in the Middle East, when Iraq and Afghanistan were relatively stable, and the threats from the Taliban, al Qaeda and Islamic State were contained.
The report shows a distinct lack of balance by completely ignoring the policy of the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments, which made people-trafficking a very profitable business, and an easy way into Australia.
There are other problems with the AHRC report.
It barely mentions, and does not accept, that the policies of both the Gillard Labor government and now the Abbott Coalition government in reintroducing mandatory off-shore detention have cut the number of boat-people, and therefore the number of children in detention.
The number of children in detention has fallen by thousands since the Abbott government came to office just 18 months ago. There are now fewer than 800 children in detention around Australia, and just over 100 on Manus Island, which the AHRC particularly condemned.
As critics have noted, the Australian Human Rights Commission was virtually silent on the issue of children in detention when Labor was in office from 2007 to 2013. This report was commenced in 2014, when the number of children in detention was already falling, as a result of the government’s policies.
Interestingly, the last major report by the AHRC into children in immigration detention came during the years of the Howard Coalition government. That inquiry was conducted throughout 2002.
That report, titled A Last Resort?, was tabled in federal parliament in May 2014. Like the recent report, it claimed that children in Australian immigration detention centres had suffered numerous and repeated breaches of their human rights.
In particular, it claimed that Australia’s immigration detention policy failed to protect the mental health of children, failed to provide adequate health care and education, and failed to protect unaccompanied children and those with disabilities.
Claims by the Human Rights Commissioner, Gillian Triggs, that the report was not partisan or biased lack credibility.
To try to put the AHRC’s latest report into context, I looked at the commission’s web site to see whether it had condemned the practice of juvenile detention of young Australians.
This is a matter which has been the subject of several reports, the most recent of which was the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s report in 2012.
This report showed that there are more Australian juveniles in detention around the country than there are young illegals in immigration detention.
But the AHRC has been completely silent about them.
A far bigger issue is the question of child abuse and neglect within Australia, and what the AHRC has done about it.
According to reports by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in the year 2012-13 (the last year for which figures are available), there were 184,216 Australian children suspected of being harmed or at risk of harm from abuse and/or neglect.
In that year, there were over 40,000 children removed from their homes, and placed in out-of-home care of one sort or another.
The reasons these children were removed from homes were emotional abuse, neglect and physical and sexual abuse. There is anecdotal evidence that these children are often subject to abuse.
But the Australian Human Rights Commission is apparently uninterested. Or at least, it is far more interested in documenting the situation of a much smaller number of children whose parents have put them in danger, and who are now living in off-shore detention facilities, generously funded by Australian taxpayers.