To date, we have received 7 responses from recipients of the Open Letter to the PM, dated 23 December 2015.

Below are the responses from:

  • Peter Dutton MP
  • Australian Border Force
  • Senator Eric Abetz
  • Tanya Plibersek MP
  • Melissa Parke MP
  • Senator Sarah Hanson-Young
  • Senator Janet Rice
  • Andrew Wilkie MP


Response from Peter Dutton MP, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection


Response from Australian Border Force:

Dear Professor Murray and co-signatories

I refer to your letters dated 23 December 2015 and January 2016 to the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, regarding the release of children being detained onshore, and those awaiting processing in the Nauru Regional Processing centre (RPC), to live in community.

Your letters have been referred to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the Hon Peter Dutton MP, as the issues raised fall within the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio. The Minister appreciates the time you have taken to bring this matter to his attention and has asked that I reply on his behalf.

The Government is continuing to prioritise the release of children from held detention in Australia. The majority of children who were in held detention in July 2013 have progressively been moved with their families into either community detention or granted a Bridging Visa.

As Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, ensures that the best interests of every child in detention are taken into account as a primary consideration. Other primary considerations may also be relevant in certain circumstances. Such countervailing considerations may mean that some families remain in held detention.

The Department continually reviews the placement of all children and their families in detention and, where eligible, will progress their release into the community as a priority.

The Department ensures that children in immigration detention in Australia receive health services equivalent to those received by children in the Australian community. Children undergo developmental milestone screenings in accordance with Australian public health practices.

It is mandatory under state and territory legislation for school aged children to be enrolled in school. In line with this legislation and Australia’s broader international obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the department acknowledges and takes steps to ensure that all school age children in any form of immigration detention are enrolled in school.

A range of care, welfare and support arrangements are in place to provide for the needs of children and young people in detention. Specialist service providers are contracted to ensure their health, education, recreational and cultural needs are met.

The Department continues to work closely with the Government of Nauru regarding the welfare of children, including transferees living in the regional processing centre and refugees who have moved into the local community. Australia has a Memorandum of Understanding arrangement with the Government of Nauru for the transfer, protection claim assessments and settlement of irregular maritime arrivals.

The Government of Nauru is ultimately responsible for the refugee determination and settlement arrangements within its respective nation.

As at 19 January 2016, there were 80 illegal maritime arrival children in held detention in Australia, compared with a peak of 1,992 children in July 2013. Of the 80 children, 73 are temporarily in Australia (usually to access specialist medical treatment) and these children and their families are subject to regional processing in Nauru and will be transferred there once they and their families are fit to transfer. The Nauru RPC operates as an open centre within the community and transferees are free to come and go at any time without restriction.

The Government of Nauru has made refugee status determinations for most transferees. Refugees are provided with support to settle into the local community.

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

Yours sincerely

Mr Garfield Prowse
Assistant Secretary
Child Protection and Wellbeing Branch Support Group – Australian Border Force

1 February 2016


Response from Eric Abetz:

Dear Professor Murray

Thank you for your email that I note was sent on Wednesday, 23rd December at 4.06 pm.

To make such a request so close to Christmas shows a sad disassociation from practical considerations.

Further, I note that when the Coalition came to Government, there were about 2,000 children in detention and that has now been reduced to well under 100.

Further, I note that when Labor came into Government, there were no children in detention.

This is indicative of the success of our border protection policy.

Yours sincerely

Eric Abetz
Liberal Senator for Tasmania


Response from Tanya Plibersek:

Dear Professor Murray,

Many thanks for your message. Please be assured that I and my colleagues in Labor will continue to raise the issue of children in onshore detention in parliament.

At Labor’s National Conference we endorsed a new asylum seeker policy framework for Labor, including the commitment that by 2025 Australia will have the highest per capita intake of refugees in the world, and the second largest annual intake overall behind the United States. 

In reference to specific concerns regarding children in detention, Labor will end the secrecy surrounding the treatment of asylum seekers in this country.  We will implement independent oversight of all Australian-funded processing facilities, both offshore and onshore.

Most importantly, Labor will establish an independent children’s advocate and will remove children from detention as quickly as possible.

The children’s advocate will be an independent statutory position and a strong voice separate from government, serving only the interests of children seeking asylum.  

Labor will also legislate to impose mandatory reporting of any child abuse in all facilities.  On 12 October 2015, the Shadow Minister for Immigration Richard Marles introduced a Private Members Bill, the Migration Amendment (Mandatory Reporting) Bill 2015 to this effect.

The Migration Amendment (Mandatory Reporting) Bill 2015 will seek to amend the Migration Act to make it unequivocal that if an immigration or border protection worker reasonably believes that a minor has suffered or is suffering a reportable assault in detention, the worker must within 24 hours alert the Australian Border Force Commissioner.

There should be absolutely no doubt that staff, including medical contractors working in these facilities not only have the freedom to report abuse, but have a legal obligation to do so.  This Bill seeks to also make it an offence if a worker fails to report an assault.

Labor will continue to ensure that those working in the immigration system enjoy the benefit of whistle-blower protections so that they can safely speak out about abuse, maladministration and corruption.

We will make sure that refugee claims are processed as quickly as possible, by restoring access to the Refugee Review Tribunal, and re-instating the ’90 day rule’ for reporting on the progress of a refugee’s claim.

We will abolish Temporary Protection Visas which currently keep people in a permanent state of limbo, and give those found to be genuine refugees a permanent Australian visa.

As the daughter of migrants who came to Australia after the end of WWII, and as the mother of three children, I am and will always remain a strong advocate for the humane treatment of asylum seekers. 

Migration has made this country great. We should never forget the debt we owe to generations of migrants and refugees who, in seeking a better life, have made Australia a better place for all of us.

Ever since the ‘Tampa’ election of 2001, domestic politics around asylum seeker policies has been nothing less than toxic.  The debate has lost rationality, compassion and respect. I firmly believe Labor is the only party that can ‘re-set’ this debate, change the conversation, and permanently end the divisive politics regarding asylum seeker policy in this country.

At the end of WWII there were between 20-30 million refugees displaced by the war. Today there is an estimated 59.5 million individuals forcibly displaced around the globe as a result of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations.  

My view is that as a wealthy nation Australia has a moral obligation to do more to address this global humanitarian crisis.  We must accept significantly more refugees to our country and we must treat those refugees more humanely. I have been calling for an increase to our refugee intake since the Abbott government cut the number from 20,000 a year under Labor, to 13,750.

Labor’s new policy doubles Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake to 27,000 a year.

Labor also recently called on the Government to do more to help the crisis in Syria, and the Government has responded by announcing 12 000 humanitarian places for refugees displaced by the conflict in the Middle East.  Malcolm Turnbull must now commit to making these places available this financial year.

We want to bring more refugees to Australia, and we want them to get here safely.

Australia played a critical role in the establishment of the United Nations in 1945 because we believed then that we have responsibilities as a good global citizen.

The Coalition government has cut $11.3 billion from our aid budget. That makes it much more difficult for Australian aid to help desperate people in their home countries, or in countries of first asylum.

We should be doing much more to support bodies like the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is struggling to care for an unprecedented number of refugees.

Australia must also support and seek always to operate in accordance with international human rights law.

Labor’s new policy commits absolutely to such a framework. It massively increases Australia’s contributions to the UNHCR and it prioritises the UN Refugee Convention and restores references to the Convention in our domestic law.

In relation to support for the UNHCR, Labor welcomes the Government’s announcement of $44 million in additional humanitarian relief funding for the crisis in Syria.  But we need to do more.

Labor’s policy provides $450 million over three years to the UNHCR.  This will make Australia the fifth largest donor globally to the international body, and provide an enormous boost to the agency. Until the recent announcement of additional funding in relation to Syria, Australia gave just $21 million per annum to the UNHCR.

As part of this contribution, a Shorten Labor Government will take a leadership role within South East Asia and the Pacific to build a regional humanitarian framework for asylum seekers.  This will include supporting the UNHCR in providing health and education services to asylum seekers and advocating for work rights for asylum seekers.

No one wants to see further deaths at sea, and the only way to truly prevent this is to provide for quick, safe, processing of claims through the appropriate international bodies, at facilities across the region and globe currently housing refugees.  Labor will not rule out turn-backs as a final resort, but our policy aims to positively address the need for refugees to get into boats in the first place.

I have confidence that Labor’s position helps restore compassion and integrity to the debate about asylum seeker policy in this country.  It is now up to Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition to end the politics of division and fear and commit to Australia doing our fair share to deal with what is an unprecedented global humanitarian crisis.

If you are interested in any further detail of Labor’s policy, please go to:

Richard Marles’ speech introducing the Migration Amendment (Mandatory Reporting) Bill 2015 can be found online at:;fileType=application%2Fpdf

For further reading, you may be interested in an opinion piece written by the Chief Executive of Save the Children Australia, Paul Ronald which can be found online at:

Thank you again for contacting me on this extremely important issue and I wish you luck with your campaign.

Yours sincerely


Response from Melissa Parke MP

Response from Senator Hanson-Young


Response from Senator Janet Rice


Letter of support from Andrew Wilkie