THE HON MICHAEL DANBY MP
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION,
SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR THE ARTS
MEMBER FOR MELBOURNE PORTS
Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (19:49): First I want to draw attention to the issue of the detention of children of asylum seekers and then I wish to talk about cuts to a social service provider.
I table a petition by a group of my constituents. The group is called Grandmothers Against the Detention of Refugee Children. Their efforts garnered the signatures of 1,990 locals. I present this petition in light of the Forgotten Children report by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The report, like the grandmothers behind this petition, called for the release of all children of asylum seekers from detention. No-one likes to see children in detention. The Labor Party supports every effort to continue the work that began under the former Labor government in moving children and their families out of detention. Numerous constituents have written to me to express their outrage at the way the government has treated Professor Triggs since the release of her report. I shared their concern and was pleased to see the censure in the Senate of Attorney-General George Brandis for his attitude.
As shadow immigration minister Richard Marles said at the time of the report’s release:
… it is difficult reading for both sides of politics.
Hopefully, if and when Labor resume office, a similar report will not need to be written again. What is substantially different between the former Labor government—and we have a former immigration minister here in the chamber—and the current government is the time it takes to process claims. As Mr Marles, the member for Corio, said when the report was released:
… the fact that time limits have blown out under this Government is a reflection on the fact that through most of 2014 the Government basically shut up shop in terms of processing people in an act of petulance because they couldn’t get their temporary protection visa regulation through the Senate.
The petition I am tabling tonight, and others like it, show those opposite that it is not just the Human Rights Commission that is concerned about the treatment of asylum seekers; it is not just academics and media commentators either; it is bread-and-butter Australians, some of the people who will vote this government out of office at the next election. I table the petition. The petition read as follows—
To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives This petition of Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children, and their friends, draws to the attention of the House, the issue of children in detention. We therefore ask the House to ensure that Australian law and practice conforms in every respect with
(a) the UNHCR Refugee Convention (1951) and
(b) the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).
Conformity with these Conventions, to which Australia is a signatory, will ensure the release of refugee children out of detention and into suitable living conditions.
from 1,990 citizens
I want to turn to a remarkable backdown that the government made in question time, yesterday. It was a welcome back down. The Leader of the Opposition asked the government to commit to funding the Mirabel foundation, whose entire federal support, which has continued for 16 years, had been cut. The Minister for Social Services, Mr Morrison, surprised us all when he announced a re-tendering process for those institutions and organisations whose funds had been cut. It is a newer, more gentle minister who is appearing on the public stage at the moment. The Mirabel Foundation assists children who have been orphaned or abandoned due to their parents’ drug use. Mirabel currently provides vital support to more than 1,400 children living in Victoria and New South Wales. Yesterday, I wrote to Minister Morrison about Mirabel and the urgent need to restore its funding. I am pleased to report that I will be meeting him tomorrow to discuss this important issue.
In that meeting I will be raising another organisation with the minister. Earlier today I wrote to him urging him to do the same rethink about funding cuts to Reclink, an organisation that enhances the lives of disadvantaged people by providing them with sports programs. Beyond its help to thousands of individuals, Reclink saves the government money. Reclink gets people off the dole. Reclink participants are less likely to be involved in the services of mental health facilities or return to prison. This saves considerable public funds.
On 4 February this year, the Senate Select Committee into the Abbott Government’s Budget Cuts released its first interim report. Amongst nine recommendations, the committee recommended that the government immediately reinstate Commonwealth funding for Reclink. I echo that recommendation and urge Mr Morrison to rethink the funding cuts to both Mirabel, looking after children orphaned or abandoned by their drug addicted parents, and Reclink, which takes people in Victoria and interstate who are completely disconnected from society and gets them reintegrated with society, sometimes just by the regular playing of football. I have seen it myself. There is a famous incident where a social worker was driving in an Aboriginal community in Central Australia. She drove past a pub where there had been a lot of heavy drinking going on. She wondered where all the drinkers were who were normally in that hotel. They were all playing football in a Reclink program. This reveals a continuing pattern of Reclink’s activities. I hope the minister will consider restoring assistance to both of these worthy organisations.