CANBERRA -- Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has introduced a bill into parliament that would ban the holding of children in immigration detention centres.
The so-called "Free The Children" bill, to amend the Migration Act 1958, was introduced into the Senate on Wednesday afternoon. The Greens have long been critical of Australia's policy of mandatory immigration detention for unauthorised arrivals including asylum seekers, and Hanson-Young's bill would legislate that children who arrive in this way not be placed in detention centres but into housing in the mainstream Australian community.
"This Bill seeks to provide that children detained... not be held in immigration detention facilities but instead be placed, along with their immediate family members or guardians, in community residential housing for any requisite period of detention," the bill's explanatory memorandum outlined.
"[The bill] seeks to end the cruel and inhumane detention of children in immigration detention in Australia and Australia’s regional processing centres."
Hanson-Young's bill would apply retrospectively to children already in immigration detention, by "requiring the immediate return to Australia of any minor currently held in immigration detention offshore", as well as seeking to strengthen Australia's commitments to international human rights agreements.
"By including explicit reference to Articles 3 and 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Bill seeks to strengthen and codify international law within the Act by ensuring the primacy of the consideration of the child’s best interests: that minors must only be detained as a matter of last resort and for the shortest appropriate time possible, not as a matter of first and only resort as is the current practice," the memorandum continues.
Hanson-Young's bill also looks to insert further protections for asylum seekers generally, placing amendments to Section 198 of the Migration Act. This section covers Australia's procedures around designating a foreign destination as a regional processing country -- such as Nauru or Manus Island -- and the conditions that need to be satisfied before Australia could transfer asylum seekers there, with the "Free The Children" bill asking that Australia ensure that country complies with international law and meets relevant human rights standards.
The bill was introduced and read a first time on Wednesday. A second reading was moved, and will occur on a date to be determined.