Children In Detention Inquiry Turns On Labor; Bowen Called To Appear


In a surprise announcement, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has confirmed that former Labor Immigration Minister Chris Bowen will appear before a public hearing of its children in immigration detention inquiry, hot on the tails of Scott Morrison’s tense Canberra appearance in August.

Bowen, who was Immigration Minister for two and a half years under Prime Minister Julia Gillard, initially promised to release all children from detention, but later broke the commitment.

"I look forward to appearing before the AHRC next Tuesday,” Bowen said in a brief statement provided to New Matilda.

“I look forward to speaking about the framework which the previous Government established by which children and families were moved from held detention to community and bridging visa arrangements."

The AHRC has come under sustained attack from Liberal figures and conservative media commentators for allegedly targeting Morrison, and ignoring the problem of child detention while Labor was in office.

At his Canberra appearance, Morrison was forced to explain evidence presented by the Counsel assisting the Commission that the rate of release from detention slowed since he was appointed minister.

Days before his appearance, Morrison announced around 150 children would be released from detention, a move asylum seeker support groups decried as a stunt, arguing the releases were the result of a long held bi-partisan commitment and that Morrison was trying to draw attention away from his impending grilling.

Among the shocking testimony presented to the inquiry by psychiatrists, paediatricians, doctors and social workers who have spent time in detention centres, evidence has implicated both Labor and Liberal governments in the mistreatment of children.

The inadequacy of processing practices and facilities on Christmas Island and Nauru have been raised as particularly concerning.

Though Bowen stepped down from the Immigration portfolio before Labor introduced mandatory offshore processing and settlement, he oversaw the introduction of the ‘no-advantages’ rule, which resulted in a large number of asylum seekers being detained indefinitely in Australian detention centres. It is understood that a large number who arrived in 2012 are still held.

Dianne Hiles, co-founder of ChillOut and former Greens candidate for Sydney, said Bowen’s initial promises as Minister had not been fulfilled.

“Chris Bowen started off making all the right noises. He visited Christmas Island very early in the piece and saw children in detention and realised how wrong it was,” Hiles said.

“He wasn’t able to manage the political situation to deliver on his natural inclination to get kids out of there as fast as possible.”

Bowen’s appearance before the inquiry marks its fifth public hearing.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that Department of Immigration Secretary Martin Bowles would be leaving his post in order to head up the Department of Health.

Bowles clashed with AHRC President Gillian Triggs at two previous public hearings, including over whether it was appropriate to refer to Christmas Island as a prison.

His replacement is yet to be announced.

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