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Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

Jon Stanhope MLA, Chief Minister

ACT Legislative Assembly


Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM

Human Rights Commissioner

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

GPO BOX 5218

SYDNEY NSW 1042

Dear Dr Ozdowski

I refer to your letter

of 1 March 2002 addressed to the Chief Executive of the Chief Minister's

Department inviting input to the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration

Detention. I note that you also wrote to the ACT Departments of Education

and Community Services, Health and Community Care and Justice and Community

Safety.

This letter represents

a coordinated ACT Government response to the Inquiry.

There are no children

in immigration detention in the ACT, but the ACT Government has an interest

in this Inquiry by virtue of its concern about the welfare of children

who are subsequently released into the community.

The ACT Government

is committed to upholding the rights of children as set out in the United

Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child, particularly Article

3 which states that "…the best interests of the child shall

be a primary consideration." All decisions affecting children must

be made on the basis that their welfare is paramount.

Holders of Temporary

Protection Visas (TPVs) who choose to settle in the ACT are eligible to

receive the following services from the ACT Government free of charge:

  • public school

    education, including access to the Introductory English Centres for

    children who have difficulty communicating in English;

  • medical treatment

    at ACT public hospitals and medical facilities;

  • concessions on

    a range of ACT Government services including public transport, spectacles,

    electricity, and dental care;

  • ambulance treatment

    and transport;

  • access to the

    Junior Secondary Bursary Scheme which provides financial support for

    dependent children in the junior high school years;

  • provision of

    interpreting assistance as appropriate for those seeking access to ACT

    Government programs and services; and

  • coordination

    of community and government settlement support activities.In addition

    arrangements have now been made for adult TPV holders to access English

    language classes at the Canberra Institute of Technology free of charge.

TPV holders are not

eligible for public housing. However a small number of TPV holders have

been provided with financial assistance towards bond and advance rental

payments for private rental accommodation.

The Commonwealth

Government's present policy of mandatory detention is detrimental to asylum

seekers and limits their capacity to settle successfully in the Australian

community in the event that they are granted protection visas. Companion

House, a torture and trauma counselling service in the ACT, cites concerns

for people released from detention centres such as mental health issues,

gaps in schooling, unsettled family life, high levels of anger, particularly

among adolescent males, and a lack of a sense of belonging to the community.

Alternative child-centred

approaches such as electronic detention, release into the custody of an

appropriate person and the Swedish model of using group homes must be

considered. The ACT Government believes it is essential for children's

security and emotional development that family groupings, including extended

families, be maintained as far as possible both during detention and upon

release into the community.

If children are to

be kept in detention centres then they should be detained in such a way

as to promote their health and well-being and care must be taken that

they are not subjected to further trauma through witnessing or becoming

involved in violent or other disturbing incidents.

Any unaccompanied

children must receive appropriate care and guardianship arrangements,

preferably from people of the same cultural background. In the event that

unaccompanied children are to be released into the community, the practice

needs to change so that adequate notice be given to the receiving jurisdiction

to enable culturally appropriate care and support arrangements to be put

in place before the child's arrival. Instances often occur where limited

time is available to make appropriate arrangements for TPV holders on

their release.

Multicultural communities

in the ACT complement the services provided by refugee support groups

by offering social support for TPV holders. This usually occurs for people

from like cultural backgrounds. The majority of TPV holders released to

Canberra are from Iraqi and Afghan backgrounds. There are very few families

in these communities available for support purposes and these families

would have limited capability to care for unaccompanied children.

The welfare of children

in the ACT (including those who are affected by immigration detention)

is also protected through legislation as indicated below:

  • the principles

    contained in the Children and Young People Act 1999 and the Immigration

    (Guardianship of Children) Act 1946 underpin all Family Services work

    with children and families in the ACT. All areas of family contact,

    health, mental health, development, identity and culture and legal status

    would be appraised and addressed to ensure the best possible outcome

    for a child or young person;

  • children can complain

    of unlawful discrimination to the ACT Discrimination Commissioner under

    the ACT Discrimination Act 1991 or to the Commonwealth Human Rights

    Commissioner under the Commonwealth Human Rights and Equal Opportunity

    Commission Act 1986;

  • the Crimes Act

    1900 prohibits physical and mental abuse of children through physical

    harm (Parts 2 and 4) and sexual harm (Parts 3 and 5) and the Protection

    Orders Act 2001 provides for protection orders in the case of actual

    or apprehended abuse; and

  • The Community

    Advocate has a role, under the provisions of the Community Advocates

    Act 1991, to act as advocate for the rights of children, and to promote

    their protection from abuse and exploitation.

Please contact Ms

Judith Therkelsen, Manager of the ACT Office of Multicultural Affairs,

on 02 6207 6014 if you require any further information or clarification.

Thank you again for

the opportunity to provide input to this Inquiry. I look forward to reading

your report in due course.

Yours sincerely

 

Jon Stanhope MLA

Chief Minister

Last

Updated 10 October 2002.