Response #5 - The Australian Opposition Leader - Kim Beazley finally speaks.

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Posted by David Chibo ( on November 03, 2001 at 09:41:05:

Dear Mr Chibo

Thank you for your letter concerning the treatment of asylum seekers who
have entered Australia without authorisation.

We appreciate your comments and understand your concern for these people,
the vast majority of whom are fleeing oppressive regimes.

Immigration detention is a sensitive issue. Policy in this area must balance
the rights of asylum seekers, who have gained unauthorised entry into
Australia but who are not by and large violent criminals, against the damage
that the unmonitored release of large numbers of refugee claimants could
inflict on our community in terms of illegal employment and health risks.

In its review of policy for the coming election, the Labor Party is
undertaking a review of immigration detention issues.

Australia has benefited hugely from our intake of migrants and refugees and
has an enviable reputation in the field of human rights. Labor policy on
this issue is framed with this in mind, and within the provisions of the
1951 Refugee Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We acknowledge the need to preserve the dignity and human rights of asylum
seekers who have arrived in Australia without authorisation, while
addressing community concerns about the cost of detention and the need to
enforce strict health and character testing. The process of refugee
determination needs to be streamlined to ensure that genuine refugees, and
in particular young children, are assessed and released into the community
as soon as possible, in order to minimise any recurrent trauma associated
with long-term detention.

We recognise the importance of providing refugees with access to appropriate
counselling and settlement services to help them adjust to life here, so
that they can set up home for themselves and their families and contribute
to the community. We believe that measures must be taken to ensure that
unauthorised arrivals who do not satisfy the criteria for protection
established by the UNHCR are deported as soon as practicable, both to uphold
the integrity of our migration program and send a decisive message to the
people-smugglers and their victims.

We consider that the allegations raised in the Four Corners TV program about
conditions and management practices in detention centres such as Villawood
are further evidence of the need for an independent judicial inquiry into
these centres.

The Government has obviously lost control of the immigration detention
regime. No distinctions are being made between those asylum seekers who have
a high likelihood of being granted refugee status, but whose application
process is not yet complete, and those detainees who in many cases have
failed in their applications and are now awaiting deportation.

Though we continue to support a regime of compulsory detention of
unauthorised arrivals in order to carry out thorough health and character
checks, a future Labor Government will ensure that asylum seekers who are
likely to be granted refugee status are not kept in detention for a moment
longer than necessary, especially women, children, the frail and other
vulnerable people.

Thank you again for taking the time to let me know of your concerns.

Yours sincerely

Kim C Beazley

Leader of the Opposition

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