Three years ago then-prime minister Kevin Rudd promised to release children from immigration detention. Instead, his legacy left more children in detention centres than under the conservative Howard government — 1003 at last count.
In October 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said locking up children was not "the Australian way". Community housing was the solution and all children would be out by June 2011, she said.
Parents of a refugee family languishing in a remote detention centre promptly went on hunger strike, saying staying in detention until June would result in their children becoming destroyed adults.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is the legal guardian of 448 children in detention. I visited some children locked up under his policy — refugees in the child detention centre in the Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows.
There were 135 children in the detention centre — the youngest is 12 years old. Inside, we met young Hazaras, Iranians and Iraqis.
One hundred children sleep in refitted shipping containers — two to a room. They are cold at night, hot during the day and not noise-proof. The rest of the children sleep in a brick compound.
The detainees have a volleyball net, a small soccer ground, table tennis tables, 11 computers, two plasma screens, a small unequipped library, three Playstations and three phones.
Private contractor Serco has employed “activities officers” to conduct hip hop, music and drawing classes to try to make children happier about being denied freedom.
Smiley, “hip” young people walk around the centre purposefully trying to enlist reluctant children into dancing or playing table tennis — any distraction.
There are high rates of self-harm, including reports of children cutting themselves, serious depression, and severe insomnia.
One child asked why the government said it would release children then continue to lock them up. Another told me refugees who harm themselves receive better treatment.
Locking up adult refugees in contravention of the United Nations Refugee Convention is enough of a travesty.
Locking up children is further evidence of a depraved and morally bankrupt ALP government.