Letters to Eureka

Unfit to govern

When questioned about the findings of the HREOC report, that indefinite mandatory detention of children amounted to ‘cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment,’ John Howard replied, ‘We don’t like detaining children, we really don’t, but the problem is that if you reverse the policy of mandatory detention you will be sending a beckoning, a signal to people smugglers …’. His comments supported those made earlier by Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone.
The Australian people are using the indefinite mandatory detention of children as a border protection tool. We are expending the liberty of these kids in order to purchase the security of our borders and the deterrence of people smugglers.

Next time you hear a tourist tell you ‘how great Aussies are,’ or feel a lump in the back of your throat when you hear the national anthem, think of the kid we locked up for five years, five months and 20 days so we didn’t send the wrong message to people smugglers. This child and his mother were released from Port Hedland detention centre on 12 May 2000, after eventually being assessed as refugees.

The statements and actions of the Howard Government are those that damn a generation.

As a nation we must make a decision that the freedom of children is simply too high a price to pay. No amount of border protection is worth one night of a child’s freedom, and no amount of deterrence is worth one second of stolen innocence.

If this government cannot come up with strategy for protecting our borders and deterring people smugglers that does not involve breaching the human rights of children, then they simply no longer have the policies, the imagination, the humanity, and the dignity that is required to govern this country.

Lachlan Harris
Canberra, ACT

Suffer the children

First we heard of the International Committee of the Red Cross report of prisoner abuse in Iraq, not a published report, but leaked information. This rightly caused outrage around the world and ongoing front page stories. Then we heard of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s report of ‘cruel, inhumane and degrading’ treatment of children in Australia’s detention centres over a period of years. Our government did not deny knowledge of this report, it was simply dismissed.

The abuse of prisoners in Iraq has rightly caused dismay and horror. Harm caused to children is surely at least of equal concern. All Australians, and especially those of us who work for the welfare of children, continue to be confronted with the reality of suffering from earlier child welfare practices, and with the trauma of the ‘stolen generations.’ There are lessons to be learned from these experiences. Any failure in care of children diminishes us all. We know that now. Nevertheless, between 1999 and 2003, 2,184 children were held in detention. It was eventually established that 92 per cent of these were genuine refugees entitled to seek asylum. They and their parents were no threat to Australia. It would seem that we have not learned.

There are still more than 160 children in detention. In the mainstream media, comment on their plight has dwindled, while comment on the treatment of the prisoners in Iraq is undiminished. Where is the moral indignation and shame over the revelations in the HREOC report? Documented violations are not even denied. Is it because there are no photographs to focus our attention? Is it because we cannot bear to imagine a shameful system operating in our country? Surely it is not true that the majority of Australians would be willing to pay for ‘the integrity of our borders’ by inflicting suffering on children?

The HREOC report set June 10 as the date by which viable solutions should be found for those children still in detention. There are well documented alternatives which respect the dignity of families and their children. June 10 has come and gone. Protests have attracted little attention.

Many courageous and compassionate Australians have worked doggedly over these past years for asylum seekers to be treated with dignity. The HREOC report vindicates their selfless work. We urge the government to act with similar integrity, and to put an end, once and for all, to a practice which offends fair-minded Australians.

Sr Joan Healy rsj
Sisters of St Joseph
Congregational Leadership Team
North Sydney, NSW



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