Sarah Hanson-Young: "No child should be exposed to these horrific conditions."

Tonight, when I’m saying goodnight to my daughter, I’ll be thinking about the children in the Australian run immigration detention centre on Nauru.

Those children will be sleeping in tents, in the middle of a disused phosphate mine, surrounded by high fences and security guards. Many of them will be too scared to go to the bathroom because of what the guards may do to them.

Read more: This is the horrific effect of keeping children in detention.

When I went to the camp on Nauru in 2013 and spoke with the families and children who are locked up there, I was horrified by what I saw. It was clear that these centres are kept out of sight and out of mind for a reason.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

When you enter the secure compound on Nauru, the first thing you notice is the stifling heat that hangs heavy over the camp. The tents have no air-conditioning, fans are in cruelly short supply, the humidity is unbelievable and shade is sparse. The second thing you notice is the desperation in the eyes of the people who are being held there.

I knew at the time that no child should be held in these conditions but a recent report from the Australian Human Rights Commission has exposed, with forensic precision, the brutality of life in detention for hundreds of children.

It showed, beyond doubt, that locking children up in these horrific conditions destroys their mental health and makes them vulnerable to physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

330 children remain in Australian detention facilities.

There are hundreds of statistics and graphs in the report that show the ways in which children are being damaged, but there is one fact that goes a long way to explaining the situation in the detention camps: in a 15 month period, more than a hundred children were deemed to be at medium or high risk of committing suicide. Just let that sink in… more than a hundred children were so badly damaged by their incarceration in an Australian detention centre that they needed to be put on suicide watch.

More from Senator Hanson-Young: Now is the time we all need to be brave and say “not in my name.”

Shockingly, 10 of those children were less than 10 years old. This is a gravely serious issue and the Commission’s report shows that the harm we are inflicting on these children will last for the rest of their lives. This should be a watershed moment in Australian political history. We as Parliamentarians should use this report to come together, rise above the party politics of the day and make sure that children aren’t indefinitely incarcerated ever again. Sadly, thus far, rather than working through the harrowing evidence that this report contains, the Abbott government has chosen to shoot the messenger.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he felt no guilt “whatsoever” following the release of the report.

This report went to the government in November of last year and almost immediately Tony Abbott’s henchmen, both in the Liberal party room and in the media, began a campaign to undermine the Human Rights Commission and its President, Professor Gillian Triggs. It was an unfounded and politically motivated attack that the Prime Minister himself continued to prosecute today.


A good government is one that defends, not denigrates, an independent human rights watchdog.

A good government is one that accepts the evidence, admits the facts and acts to end what we all know is wrong; the institutionalised abuse of children.

There will be no chance at righting the wrongs of the past and addressing the heinous injustices that were visited upon these children while this obsession with political point scoring remains.


The Commission’s report said the abuse in immigration detention centres is so serious that a Royal Commission, the highest form of judicial inquiry in the country, is required to investigate it properly. I support that call whole-heartedly and will work with my colleagues across the Parliament to make sure that happens.

When I was on Nauru a widowed father of two told me, as his eyes filled with tears, ”My children ask me every day, when are we getting out of this prison? Every day I lie to them, but now I have no lies left.”

Right now there are more than 300 children locked up across the Australian mainland and on Nauru.

Those children need a voice and they need to be released from detention as soon as is humanly possible.

Sarah Hanson-Young is a Greens Senator for South Australia – @sarahinthesen8