Moving asylum seeker children into the community
Tuesday, 1 March 2011
Statement by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Hon Chris Bowen, MP
On 18 October last year, the Prime Minister and I announced that the Government would move the majority of children and vulnerable family groups out of immigration detention facilities and into community-based accommodation by June this year.
This was an important announcement and I want to update the House on its implementation.
Let me say at the outset Mr Speaker, that the government will be meeting this commitment.
Through to the end of June, there will be carefully managed movement of several hundred people into residential arrangements.
Since October, my department has been managing the expansion of the community detention program, with my advisory Council for Immigration Services and Status Resolution (CISSR) working closely with them to support this process. I want to thank the Chair of the Council, Mr Paris Aristotle, and the other members of the council for their invaluable assistance as we implement what is an ambitious program.
I’d also like to thank the Australian Red Cross and Life Without Barriers who have been working intensively with the government to source suitable accommodation for the minors and families released into the community, as well as appropriate carers and case managers, particularly for unaccompanied minors.
I’d also particularly like to thank the CEO of Red Cross Australia, Robert Tickner, for his support for this initiative and his assistance in ensuring that Red Cross has been able to devote the appropriate resources to this undertaking.
We need to make sure that a comprehensive and people-focused care plan is prepared for all people placed into the community to ensure that appropriate services and support arrangements are in place for each person. We need to ensure that appropriate health and support services are available and we need to ensure that they have access to schools and other education services, such as English language classes.
This sometimes takes a little bit of time but we are making progress.
Since our announcement in October, 268 people have been approved for release into the community.
This includes almost all of the male unaccompanied minors who are under 15 years old and all but one recently arrived female unaccompanied minor.
The focus at this stage is on the youngest unaccompanied minors and families with young children, single parent families, families with pregnant women and other particularly vulnerable families. As we work through these groups, the priority will extend to older unaccompanied minors and other family groups.
A great deal of preparatory work has been done to set a sound platform for this program. A reference group has been formed, including representatives of faith-based, not-for-profit and welfare agencies, Australian Red Cross, Life Without Barriers, members of CISSR, senior departmental officers and a representative of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA). This group is providing ongoing advice about the development and implementation of the program.
Roundtable meetings with key stakeholders and potential partners have been held in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Hobart enabling more detailed discussions about the ongoing implementation of this significant undertaking.
A number of organisations have been engaged by the Australian Red Cross through an expression of interest (EOI) process to provide services to support the expansion, and this process continues. These organisations are providing high-quality expert services to support families and unaccompanied minors in the community.
The location of community-based accommodation is largely driven by the availability of appropriate housing, while regional and rural locations may be used depending on the availability of other services.
Public housing will not be used. Housing is being sourced through faith-based, not-for-profit and welfare agencies and other non-government organisations. Some of this housing is currently unused or is being used for another purpose, for example for office space. Market rent will be paid for properties housing people in residence determination arrangements.
Mr Speaker, I provide this update to the House because of the significant community interest in the release of children in detention.
This is a controversial and emotive issue.
When the Prime Minister and I announced this measure, an Essential poll found that 53 per cent of people disapproved of the government’s decision to move children and their families out of immigration detention centres. Only 33 per cent approved.
We did not do this because it was popular. We did this because it’s the right thing to do.
Whatever one’s views about asylum seekers, I would hope the House would agree that we have a special duty of care to children.
It is well known that I believe, and the government believes, there needs to be an international solution to break the people smugglers business model. But while children’s refugee claims are being processed in Australia, they should be treated with care.
Regardless of whether they are recognised as genuine refugees or returned to their homeland after consideration of their claims, they should be given the chance to learn and grow while they are here. In this vein, I call on the Opposition to support the removal of children from detention facilities – something they have not done since this decision was announced on 18 October.
In recent weeks, more Australians have seen the human face behind the issue of children in detention facilities. Perhaps, if another poll were held today, the figures I shared with the House earlier in relation to public support for the removal of children from detention facilities would be different.
However, this is not a matter of political popularity – it is a matter of providing appropriate care for vulnerable people.
The government will meet its commitment to remove the majority of children from detention by June. I will provide the House with further updates as we approach the end of June and also beyond that date.
We will meet this commitment because it is the only responsible thing to do.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Tuesday, 1 March 2011 at 16:26 AEST