23 October 2010

A little known truth about children detained behind razor wire

When Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the Labor government’s decision to release children and their families from immigration detention centres into the community, she evoked those well known emotive images of children detained behind razor wire:

I don’t think it’s the Australian way to have kids behind razor wire in the hope that will be a deterrent.

It was a misleading statement, because children seeking asylum in Australia are no longer being detained behind razor wire. Furthermore, contrary to what is widely believed, the previous Howard government actually abolished—not introduced—detention of children behind razor wire, and this was acknowledged by the Prime Minister in Question Time:

Mr FORREST (Mallee) (2:15 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to her statement: ‘I don’t think it’s the Australian way to have kids behind razor wire.’ Will the Prime Minister confirm that by 2005 the Howard government had overturned the Hawke and Keating governments’ policy of mandatory detention of children behind razor wire and that there have been no children held in these conditions since that time?

Ms GILLARD (Lalor) (Prime Minister) —I genuinely thank the member for his question. Can I say to him that I just referred to the 2005 reforms in my last answer to a question from the shadow minister and I respect the role that the member asking the question played in advocating those reforms from the back bench of the then Howard government.

Mr ABBOTT —Given the question that was asked by my colleague the member for Mallee, and given the Prime Minister’s answer, which referred to changes made by the Howard government in 2005, I ask her by way of supplementary question: why did she create the impression yesterday that there were still children behind razor wire?

Ms GILLARD —The question of children and razor wire is directly relevant to this reform, so I say again to the Leader of the Opposition: if he wants to say, ‘Good on the government, but the Howard government thought of this first,’ that is fine by me. …