Response to the Children in Detention letter campaign

In August, 132 early childhood professionals sent letters to the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton, calling on the Government to end the inhumane treatment of child refugees on Nauru and Manus Island.

Today I received a response – it can be viewed here. I have also posted the text below.

While I am pleased that the Department took the time to reply, I am not happy with their response – nor that the Minister or Prime Minister did not reply personally.

They have sought to diminish the facts that were uncovered in the Nauru Files.

They refer to previous investigations and reports that have called for Australia’s approach to offshore detention to be improved.

They refer to the Red Cross and the UN, who have both called for the immediate closure of these detention facilities and for refugees to be settled in Australia.

They have stated that there are zero children in detention. There are nearly 50 children still on Nauru, which the Department try to pretend they are not responsible for.

I will continue to advocate for Australia’s shameful practices in this area to stop.


Thank you for your campaign ( concerning the welfare of those subject to regional processing and settlement arrangements. Members of the public have used your campaign template and forwarded letters to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the Hon Peter Dutton MP. The Minister appreciates these representations and has asked that I reply on his behalf. Please note, responses will not be sent to individuals writing as part of this campaign.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has undertaken a review of all incidents released by The Guardian in ‘The Nauru files’ article on 10 August 2016. Of the 2,107 incidents released by The Guardian, 1,814 were categorised as minor or low level, 272 were categorised as major, and 21 were categorised as critical. I can confirm that in all major and critical cases action was taken. Of the critical and major incidents, 16 were referred to the Nauru Police Force (NPF) or to health service providers as necessary and, where a service provider employee was identified, employment was terminated where appropriate.

Many of the incident reports reflect unconfirmed allegations and are not statements of proven fact. Some of these individual matters are historical in nature and have already been the subject of media reporting and investigation over an extended period of time by a range of oversight mechanisms, including reviews commissioned by the Department. These include the Senate Select Committee on the Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru (2015); the Department’s commissioned review by Mr Philip Moss, Review into recent allegations relating to conditions and circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru (2015); and the review of the Child Protection Panel, established by the Secretary of the Department in May 2015.

Additionally, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees all undertake regular scrutiny visits to Nauru at the invitation of the Government of Nauru.

The Australian Government continues to support the Government of Nauru to provide for the health, welfare and safety of all transferees and refugees in Nauru. All individuals are encouraged to report alleged incidents to the NPF. Australian Federal Police officers work alongside the NPF to continue to build their capacity to investigate complex and sensitive incidents.

The Australian Government also takes seriously its role in supporting the Government of Nauru to protect children from abuse, neglect or exploitation. The Government of Nauru has enacted child protection legislation; implemented a Child Protection Unit supported by Australian child protection social workers; and implemented a Gender Violence Unit with a hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Department actively supports the Nauruan Government to deliver a robust child protection system, including through the delivery of mentoring and training.

The Nauru Regional Processing Centre operates as an open centre and transferees are free to come and go at any time without restriction. Transport is provided to assist transferees to move around Nauru.

The Australian Government has made significant investments in the upgrading of health and educational facilities in Nauru, which benefit Nauruans, transferees and refugees living in the Nauruan community.

The Government remains committed to regional processing and resettlement and stopping the scourge of people smugglers and deaths at sea.

In Australia, significant headway has been made over the past year to reduce the number of children in held detention. From a peak of 1,992 children 31 July 2013, the number of illegal maritime arrival children in held detention was reduced to zero as at 1 April 2016.

There will be occasions where children transit through immigration detention; this can be due to airport turnarounds, people who are in the final stages of removal from Australia or due to criminal or security issues. The Department will continue to work to resolve matters involving any children and their families in held detention as quickly as possible and, where possible, will progress their release into the community as a priority.

Thank you for bringing these concerns to the Minister’s attention.

Yours sincerely


Director ABF Ministerial Correspondence Section Support Group – Australian Border Force

22 September 2016

By Liam McNicholas

I am an experienced early childhood teacher, writer and advocate. As well as managing community not-for-profit early childhood operations in a variety of roles, I have advocated for children's human rights; the need for investment in early childhood education; and for professional recognition and wages for those working in early childhood education and care.

I am available to be commissioned for freelance writing, editing, event speaking and consulting work.

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