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Looking for the truth in detention

Letter to Editor, The Weekend Australian
22-3 November 2003

Could our leaders explain why we continue to detain unauthorised arrivals, including children, once we know they are not a health or security risk and once we know they are no more likely to abscond than other asylum-seekers living in the community.

On November 14, 2003, John Howard said: "The point of our policy is to deter people from arriving here illegally ... That's what people have to understand."

Philip Ruddock never tired of telling us: "Detention is not punitive nor meant as a deterrent. But it is essential that unauthorised arrivals are not allowed to enter the community until we are able to establish their identity and that they do not constitute a security and health risk. Detention ensures that they are available for processing any claims to remain in Australia and that importantly they are available for quick removal should they have no right to remain."

Yet 90 per cent of the last wave of boatpeople were proved to be refugees and not in need of removal. Those in detention are six times more likely to succeed in an appeal to the Refugee Review Tribunal. So much for better processing in detention. Though we remove more than 10,000 people every year, on average only 222 of them are boatpeople.

Has the PM given us the truth? We detain children hoping to deter others. Ruddock knew there was one problem with this. The High Court says detention for such a purpose is unconstitutional unless authorised and supervised by a court.

Father Frank Brennan SJ
Kings Cross, NSW

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