Identities want end to child detention

ALANA BUCKLEY-CARR

Some of Australia's leading identities, including prominent WA figures Michael Chaney and Janet Holmes a Court, have joined calls to release children from immigration detention by the end of the year and phase out mandatory detention.

With hearings scheduled to begin today into the validity of the Federal Government's Malaysia refugee deal, a report released by the Centre for Policy Development calls for a major shift in the treatment of those being held in immigration detention centres.

A New Approach - Breaking The Stalemate on Refugees and Asylum Seekers has been undersigned by 34 prominent Australians including actor Bryan Brown, author Thomas Keneally, playwright David Williamson and filmmaker George Miller.

It has also been backed by former WA Labor premier Carmen Lawrence, former Federal Liberal leader John Hewson and former Liberal Immigration minister Ian Macphee.

The report makes recommendations including placing a cap on the number of days an asylum seeker can be held in immigration detention and increasing Australia's annual refugee intake from 14,750 to 20,000 by 2016.

It recommends that detention centres be used for health, identity and security checks, with children kept no longer than two weeks and adults for up to 30 days.

"Continued detention on judicial order should be available, with a three month maximum for detention where no adverse security findings or character assessments have been made during those checks, with any health issues to be covered by existing quarantine laws," the report said.

It also recommends that Immigration Minister Chris Bowen be stripped as the guardian of unaccompanied minors and an independent child guardian be appointed.

Mr Bowen's role as guardian will be among the issues canvassed in the High Court today as hearings start into the validity of the deal with the Malaysian Government to send 800 asylum seekers to Kuala Lumpur for processing.

The court placed in injunction on the first group of asylum seekers being deported to Malaysia two weeks ago. There are now 338 people in detention on Christmas Island awaiting removal.

Fomer WA Liberal senator Fred Chaney, who with wife Angela is a member of the Coalition for Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Detainees, said he was happy to support the recommendations because the current policy was "expensive, inhumane and ineffective".

"We are laying ourselves open to future compensation claims to fix these highly damaged people," Mr Chaney said. "We treat them more harshly than criminals."