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Submission to National Inquiry
into Children in Immigration Detention from
the Law Society of New South
The aim of this submission
is to inform HREOC, at the outset of its Inquiry, of the concerns held
about Children in Immigration in Detention, by members of the legal profession
in New South Wales. The focus of the submission is limited to the issue
of compliance with international and domestic legal obligations. Relevant
obligations are outlined, concerns are highlighted and finally, recommendations
to address those concerns are listed. The Law Society welcomes any future
opportunity to address any specific matters in greater detail at the request
obligations imposed upon Australia in relation to this issue are derived
from various international treaties and the common law. The treaties are
not foreign documents drafted in distant lands with little relevance to
life in Australia. Rather, they reflect consensus principles of the international
community and are designed to be used as a benchmark of agreed minimum
standards. Where ratified by Australia those instruments are binding on
Australia in international law. Australia has undertaken to ensure that
the standards outlined in that treaty are applied to everyone in its territory,
and courts should interpret laws consistently with treaty provisions.
They will only create enforceable rights in Australia, however, where
they have been incorporated into Australian law (or in some cases by signing
the relevant Optional Protocol). The relevant instruments and rights outlined
within them include the following:
the Rights of the Child, 1989 (CROC) 
- Children should
not be deprived of liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily and should only
be detained as a matter of last resort and for shortest appropriate
period of time (Article 37(b));
- right to protection
and care as necessary for well-being (Article 3(2));
- right to prompt
access to legal and other assistance and right to challenge their detention
- right of all children
within jurisdiction to enjoy all the rights of CROC without discrimination
of any kind, regardless of nationality, immigration status or how the
child arrived in Australia (Article 2);
- the best interests
of the child as a primary consideration in all actions concerning children
- free expression
of opinion in matter affecting the child (Article 12) and in particular,
right to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting
the child in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of
national law (Article 12(2));
- right to survival
and development (Article 6(2));
- child asylum seekers
have right to receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance
- children temporarily
deprived of a family environment are entitled to the special protection
and assistance of the State (Article 20);
- right to a standard
of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral
and social development (Article 27(1));
- right to education
and training (Articles 28 and 29), to privacy (Article 16), to rest,
play and recreation facilities (Article 31);
- right to the
highest attainable standard of health and rehabilitation (Article 24)
and to recover from abuse or violence (Article 39);
- right to freedom
negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation (Article 19).
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (ICCPR) 
- children have
the right to protection (Article 24).
- right to liberty
and freedom from arbitrary detention and right to challenge detention
- right to be treated
with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person
- all persons to
be equal before the courts and tribunals (Article 14.1);
- right to freedom
from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
(Article 7);from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment (Article 37(a)); and
- protection from
physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 (ICESCR) 
- right to highest
attainable standard of physical and mental health (Article 12) and healthy
development of the childe (Article 12(2)(a));
- right to protection
of the family (Article 10.1);
- right to education
to the Status of Refugees, 1951 (Refugee Convention) 
- right to provision
of public education for child asylum seekers, with same treatment as
nationals with respect to primary education and as other non-nationals
with respect to other education (Article 22);
- prohibition against
refoulment (Article 33(1))
Other relevant instruments
which operate in part to protect and uphold the rights of child asylum
seekers include: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
(UNDHR); the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or
Degrading Punishment or Treatment, 1984 (CAT)
; the International Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of
Racial Discrimination, 1965 (CERD) ; the Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979
(CEDAW) ; and various documents such as United Nations
High Commission Recommendation Guidelines, Notes and Policies 
which operate to provide a practical guide for ensuring compliance with
the standards set in the instruments above in respect of treatment of
children. Such documents are not binding on Australia as a matter of international
law but are persuasive in interpreting treaties and contain goals and
aspirations reflecting a consensus of world opinion.
In terms of the common
law interpretation of Australia's international obligations, the High
Court's decision in Teoh's case  gave rise
to a "legitimate expectation" that international instruments
would be considered in administrative decision making. 
In terms of Australia's
domestic obligations, the rule of law (granting all persons equal status
before the law) and the doctrine of separation of powers (allowing for
review by the judiciary of legislature and executive decisions) are called
into question by the current legislative regime, as are basic principles
of access to justice, presumption of innocence and free speech. More specifically,
the Minister for Immigration has certain responsibilities under the Immigration
(Guardianship of Children) Act 1946 (Cth).
The Law Society of
New South Wales has reason to believe and is concerned that:
policy of mandatory and non-reviewable detention of unauthorised child
arrivals is unlawful and places Australia in breach of its international
2. automatic mandatory
detention leads to prolonged detention.
3. unlimited detention
of asylum seekers is likely to cause further trauma to these vulnerable
4. child asylum
seekers in detention are being incarcerated despite having not been
arrested or charged with any criminal offence. 
5. access is being
denied to persons wishing to observe or monitor detention centre operations
or to assist asylum seekers in the migration application process.
6. the geographical
isolation of detention centres such as Woomera, Port Hedland and Curtin
results in lack of services and community interaction for asylum seekers.
7. children are
inflicting self-harm such as lip-sewing, slashing, shampoo ingestion,
attempted hanging and threats of self-hurt including suicide. 
8. access to education
and schooling is insufficient and inappropriate. 
9. detention facilities
are overcrowded and otherwise inappropriate with insufficient privacy
or recreational activities and restricted areas for movement. 
10. the independence
of the Refugee Review Tribunal cannot be maintained with the practice
of six-monthly 'performance reviews' of tribunal members based on remittal
rates and of appointing members on one year, renewable terms.
11. the so-called
"Pacific Solution" (introduced in August 2001) of detaining
asylum seekers (including children) on arrival or intercepting and removing
them to third countries such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea where their
asylum claims are to be determined is costly, ineffective and in breach
of Australia's legal obligations. 
Further, the Law
Society is concerned that it prevents independent observers and lawyers
having access to detention centres and prevents asylum seekers from having
access to appropriate health, education and other services.
In order to bring
Australia into line with its international and domestic obligations in
respect of child asylum seekers, the Law Society of New South Wales recommends
1. a humanitarian
approach be adopted in determining the status of child asylum seekers
including swift and fair processing of applications.
2. access be granted
to asylum seekers (including children and/or their parents or guardians)
to migration, legal and welfare information as well as legal advice and
representation. Measures may include, for example:
a) the assignment
of a case worker to asylum seekers who can assess their legal, health,
educational and other needs and provide support and assistance throughout
the processing of their application;
b) on-site medical staff, legal advisers and interpreters for asylum
seekers to access as necessary; and
c) the provision of an information booklet to asylum seekers (in clearly
comprehensible and relevant first language) which outlines the visa
application process and legal rights;
3. child asylum seekers
be given the same access to welfare services (health, education, accommodation)
as Australian children.
4. remote detention
centres be relocated to be closer to (and a part of) the community which
would allow for easier access to various services and supports systems.
5. there be greater
transparency and monitoring of detention centres, including access being
granted to independent persons with a legitimate interest, including legal
6. allowance be made
for independent federal judicial review of Refugee Review Tribunal, Migration
Review Tribunal and Administrative Appeals Tribunal decisions under the
Migration Act 1958 (Cth) and to this end privative clauses in relation
to judicial review of migration decisions be removed. 
7. an independent
and properly resourced Refugee Review Tribunal be maintained.
8. Australia should
take guidance from and seek to utilise the various international instruments
and documents referred to above as a practical way of ensuring compliance
with its international obligations in respect of child asylum seekers.
Relative to other
European and North American countries Australia receives very few asylum
seekers.  Australia's policy of mandatory detention
(of asylum seekers until determination of application) is inconsistent
with most other Western democracies which detain only for limited purposes
of health, character and identity checks and for a maximum of 2-4 weeks.
The price Australia is paying by adopting this approach is international
condemnation for the disregard shown of internationally recognised standards.
The NSW Law Society
is concerned that Australia's international and domestic obligations are
not being met or considered by the Federal Government in the current handling
of children in detention centres. As a responsible international citizen,
Australia needs to comply with its international obligations in respect
of refugees. Domestically, Australia needs to ensure access to justice
(including the provision of legal information, advice and representation)
to those who need it most.
countries have ratified the Convention and Australia did so on 17 December
1990. Australia has not signed the first optional protocol (on the involvement
of children in armed conflict) but did sign the second optional protocol
(on the sale of children and child prostitution and pornography) on 18
December 2001. Although not legally binding, the Convention is incorporated
in federal law as part of the human rights responsibilities of HREOC.
CROC affirms some of the most basic principles of children's rights, including
the provision of health care, housing, social security, education, and
protection from neglect, cruelty and exploitation.
ratified in 1980. Australia signed the first optional protocol to the
ICCPR (which recognised the jurisdiction of the UN Human Rights Committee
to receive and consider complaints from individuals about violations of
rights set out in the Convention by a State Party) on 25 September 1991
and the second optional protocol (which aims to abolish the death penalty)
on 2 October 1990.
1954 and acceded to the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1967
on 13 December 1973.
signed the Optional Protocol to CEDAW which would allow the Committee
on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women to receive and consider
Children; UNHCR (1994) Refugee Children: Guidelines on Protection and
Care; UNHCR (1997) Guidelines on Policies and Procedures in dealing with
Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum; UNHCR (1999) Revised Guidelines
on applicable Criteria and Standards relating to the Detention of Asylum-Seekers;
Save the Children/UNHCR (2000), "Statement of Good Practice"
of the Separated Children in Europe Programme.
v Teoh (1995) 183 CLR 273.
Inc and ors v Australian Broadcasting Authority (1998) 194 CLR 355 went
further to impose a legal obligation to take into account and apply international
instruments to which Australia is a party in circumstances where the governing
legislation makes even indirect reference to international instruments.
In that case, s160(d) of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) required
the ABA to perform its functions in a manner consistent with 'Australia's
obligations under any convention to which Australia is a party or any
agreement between Australia and a foreign country.'
"For those who've come across the seas", May 1998.
operate so as to place Australia in breach of its legal obligations including
the restriction of judicial review (and thereby infringing separation
of powers doctrine) and the restriction of asylum seekers' access to justice.
365 minors, including 13 unaccompanied minors, held in detention centres
and 9 unaccompanied minors in alternate care of the South Australian Department
of Human Services provided through Family and Youth Services. There is
also one unaccompanied minor issued with a bridging visa who has been
placed in foster care arrangements in the community.
AM and Dr Sev Ozdowski, Human Rights Commissioner OAM, 6 February 2002.
the seas", May 1998.
said that diverting boatloads of people in this way "in exchange
for huge sums of money perpetuated the very trafficking of human misery
that the Australian Government claims it is seeking to prevent."
The Age, 5 March 2002. Democrats leader Natasha Stott-Despoja also commented
that "the 'solution' would not reduce asylum seeker numbers but would
cost hundreds of millions of dollars and make it harder for refugees to
settle in the community." in "Watchdog calls for time on new
laws" 24 September 2001. Similarly, former Law Council President
Anne Trimmer opposed the combined effect of the legislative package saying
they "substantially cut the rights of asylum seekers to have access
to our legal system to establish a claim as a refugee" and pointing
out that "Rights of judicial review for this category of decisions
are already very restricted." Ms Trimmer said "Australia voluntarily
accepted this obligation when it ratified the Refugee Convention and made
it part of our law. Any person within the territory of Australia, whether
an unauthorised arrival or not, must have a right of access to the courts,
in particular to have decisions of government officials which affect their
rights reviewed by the courts." in "Law Council Opposed to Migration
Legislation", 19 September 2001.
Australia and New Zealand January-March 2002" 25 April 2002, Population
Data Unit UNHCR Geneva
The Detention of Asylum Seekers in Europe Procedures http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/alternativeEurope.htm
Updated 9 January 2003.