By MAMAMIA NEWS
On Friday last week, Labor’s Minister for Immigration, Tony Burke was starting to pack up his office. Presumably the boxes had already been delivered, staff were finishing up on final emails and preparing to move to the Opposition corridors.
On election eve, Minister Burke knew that his party was all but certain to lose in the next day’s polls.
So he decided to use the final minutes of his ministerial power to do something a little bit wonderful.
Burke authorised the release of 38 unaccompanied minors (child asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia without their parents) from detention and into more relaxed and less restrictive community detention. The youngest child released from a detention facility into the community, was 5-years-old.
In an exclusive report from The Australian’s brilliant and handsome Rick Morton (formerly Mamamia’s News Editor) yesterday, it was revealed that the documents authorising the children’s release were signed at 4.45pm on Friday.
Talk about getting in at the last minute.
During his time as Immigration Minister (he only got the job in June of this year after Julia Gillard was replaced by Kevin Rudd triggering a cabinet reshuffle) Mr Burke had made a quiet but significant stand against children being kept in detention. In total, Mr Burke released more than 400 children into the community detention during the less-than-four-months he held the immigration portfolio.
One source told reporter Rick Morton that Minister Burke had also sneakily requested the files of several adult asylum seekers who had been held in detention for significant periods of time. Mr Burke reportedly allowed ‘seven or eight’ of them to move into community detention facilities as well. Some of those individuals had been living in detention centres on the Australian mainland for upwards of three years.
Mr Burke, who following Labor’s election loss, is no longer a Minister but retained his seat in the parliament, told The Australian that:
“It was never about electoral timing but I said to my adviser who I’d asked to do this work to go to the department (of Immigration and Citizenship) and ask what it would take to get the children out of detention.”
“And I said to him, ‘If they tell you it can’t be done, ask them what the blockages are that are standing in the way and then work on a solution to all of those blockages’. I was particularly concerned I would be left with about 75 children in detention, but I got them out and I am very proud of that.”
Over the past three years, the public has witnessed both major parties take significantly harder lines on the asylum seeker issue.
As more and more boats have arrived and we have seen so many tragic deaths at sea, there had been efforts by the then-Government and the now Opposition to ensure that reaching Australia by boat became an increasingly less attractive option.
Both sides of parliament wanted to stop desperate asylum seekers risking their lives by trying to take the perilous journey to Australia in poorly equipped boats. And while this aim is an admirable one by our parliamentarians, the result has also been harsher and seemingly less humane policies being applied to those who do successfully make it to Australia by boat.
Under the new Government, the stance against asylum seekers arriving by boat is likely to harden further. And only time will tell how the Government chooses to deal with children who arrive on Australia’s shores without proper documentation and without their parents or guardians.
For now though, there are finally no unaccompanied children in Australia’s mainland detention centres. Instead, they are living in a more relaxed and home-like environment in the community. Bravo Mr Burke.