The influx of illegal maritime arrivals (IMA) into Australia between 2007 and 2013 – totalling more than 50,000 people – saw 8,000 children placed into immigration detention for various periods through that six year timeframe.
The numbers of children in detention at any one time peaked at almost 2,000 in July 2013.
The chaos at Australia’s borders and in immigration detention centres was a crisis of the then Labor Government’s own making after it deliberately dismantled the nation’s border protection policies.
It was also unprecedented, one of the greatest failings of public policy and left numerous arms of government struggling to deal with the sheer numbers of illegal arrivals.
The Coalition came to Government in September 2013 committed to ending this crisis – to stopping the boats, removing children from detention and closing the detention centres.
The last of those IMA children were removed from detention earlier this year.
While people smugglers continue to test Australia’s resolve, Operation Sovereign Borders has stopped the boats.
We’ve closed 17 of the detention centres opened in the Labor years.
Those transferred to Regional Processing Centres (RPCs) in Nauru and Papua New Guinea who are found to be refugees, have resettlement options available to them.
However these were all complex problems that the incoming Coalition Government inherited – Labor made a mess and the Coalition was left to clean it up.
As a recent ANAO Report showed, when panic set in within the last months of the Labor Government – it placed an impossible burden on the public service officials it charged with re-opening the RPCs in Nauru and Papua New Guinea in a matter of weeks to deal with the growing illegal arrival onslaught.
When serious allegations relating to the conditions and circumstances at the RPC in Nauru were made, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) commissioned an independent review (Moss).
The Moss findings were delivered shortly after I was appointed Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.
At the time I advised the Department that further strategies had to be undertaken including establishing an independent Child Protection Panel (CPP) to review the record on child protection in held detention, community detention and RPCs and advise on how child protection and wellbeing procedures could be strengthened.
Through the course of the review, the CPP recommended various enhancements to policies, operational procedures and governance mechanisms including development of a Child Safeguarding Framework.
A Child Wellbeing Branch was established within DIBP in July 2015 and the Child Safeguarding Framework finalised earlier this year.
The CPP’s report was provided to the Department mid-year. The Department has categorically accepted the majority of the CPP’s findings. A number have been accepted partially or in principle and require further examination by DIBP and liaison with external stakeholders.
Protecting children is everyone’s responsibility.
DIBP has and will continue to work with state and territory child protection agencies which have legislative responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of children.
The CPP’s work should ensure that there are clear, consistent approaches for staff and service providers in their dealings with any minor taken into immigration detention in future.
The Department will reconvene the Panel in mid-2017 to review the implementation of actions in response to the Panel’s formal recommendations.
I thank the members of the Panel for the time and professional expertise brought to this significant review of departmental processes and procedures surrounding children in detention.
The Child Protection Panel’s report, the Department’s response and the Child Safeguarding Framework are available here: www.border.gov.au/about/reports-publications/reviews-inquiries/child-protection-panel-terms-of-reference