massive damage to children

An inquiry has heard that policies pursued by Australian Prime Minister John Howard and former Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock have caused massive damage to children detained behind razor wire in immigration prisons.

The People's Inquiry into Detention, set up by the Australian Council of Heads of Schools of Social Work, was held after demands for a broader investigation into immigration department practices following a report by former federal police commissioner Mick Palmer on the wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau.

Lee Glendinning reports in the Sydney Morning Herald that the inquiry heard from early-childhood professional Ms Trish Highfield that "if she saw the same level of trauma in children not in detention as she had seen behind the razor wire and did not make a mandatory report, she could be prosecuted".

Ms Highfield, who has been a detainee advocate for seven years, told the inquiry that "[t]hese children have been emotionally murdered in our own country in detention we have wrought the most shocking damage to these children."

The inquiry also heard from Ms Highfield's partner, the former ABC journalist John Highfield, who "told the panel that he knew of a detained man with an infant son who remained in isolation at Port Hedland for 13 days, with one visit to a toilet allowed each day. The father was forced to let the little boy defecate on their clothes, which he washed during the toilet visit every 24 hours".

The report notes that "[t]he United Nations Human Rights Committee has since found that Australian authorities breached civil and political rights in this case under a covenant to which it is a signatory."

The inquiry's president, former Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld, said it was reasonable to have rules and safeguards about who entered Australia.

However, he said: "This is Australia. If this was done by Nazi Germany we'd be writing a book about it."

November 24, 2005