An embarrassed Government's last resort?

Top marks to the spin-doctors and propaganda machine who turn defense of Australia's indefensible immigration policy into an artform. On Thursday last week the government tabled the HREOC report into Australia's policy of immigration detention of children, A Last Resort? The report deserves some examination, but so does the cynical timing of its release. This was released at the tail end of budget week, when the attention of the media and public was almost exclusively focused on all things budgetary. It would be hard to find a time on the political calendar when less attention could possibly be given to the document. Well spun, chaps. Murali would be proud.

The report itself is damning of the government, and so it should be. The findings demonstrate the gross physical, mental and psychological harm caused to children who spend a significant chunk of their time in detention. Slowed development, poor socialisation and suicidal tendencies have all been found in children in detention, and the best interests of children is sadly ignored. Of course, it shouldn't have taken a hefty report from HREOC to demonstrate what all of us knew instinctively - the wrong side of barbed wire is not a good place to bring up kids.

Perhaps most shameful is the overarching finding that:
Australia's immigration detention laws, as administered by the Commonwealth, and applied to unauthorised arrival children, create a detention system that is fundamentally inconsistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

The report then goes onto to identify the clauses of the CRC breached by the Australian government. The findings and recommendations of the report is testament to how easily steps could be taken to improve the lot of kids in detention. Given that more than 90% are accepted into Australia as genuine refugees, the collective benefit of taking up these recommendations is hard to ignore. Not just for their time as detainees, but also to aid their social adaption after release.

Let's not delude ourselves that Australia is the worst offender when it comes to CRC breaches. Child soldiers fighting forgotten wars in Africa, child labour in Asia and the use of children as tools for terrorism in the Middle East are all likely to knock Australia out of the Kiddie Abuse World Cup by the Quarter Finals. But as a first-world, educated, informed and open society with a decent respect for international law, Australia should be leading by example rather than wallowing in excuses.


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