Offshore Processing Policy ‘Unchanged’

Offshore processing policy 'unchanged'

The Sydney Morning Herald
December 24, 2009

THE decision to bring 30 Afghan boys to the mainland from Christmas Island does not represent a change in policy on the treatment of undocumented arrivals, the Government has insisted amid Opposition claims it represents the end of offshore processing.

The relocation of the 30 unaccompanied minors to Melbourne on Sunday, revealed in the Herald, has reignited debate over the Government's commitment to offshore processing, a Howard government policy.

The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, said taking them from Christmas Island was ''consistent with regulator and longstanding operations'' of the Immigration Department and policy on processing ''all irregular maritime arrivals on Christmas Island has not changed''.

He rejected suggestions the Christmas Island detention centre, which currently houses 1432 people and is undergoing an upgrade to provide space for 1600, had reached capacity.

''From time to time, people are transferred to the mainland for different reasons including vulnerable people such as unaccompanied minors, family groups and those who require specialist medical treatment,'' he said.

But the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, yesterday said moving the youths represented a broken promise on the Government's part to be tough on people smuggling.

The Government had effectively ''sent a clear signal to people smugglers and their clients: if you can get here you can stay here, and if you can get to Christmas Island you will be brought to Australia,'' he said. Mr Rudd had ''set up a Christmas tree in Australia for the people smugglers''.

It emerged yesterday that the Immigration Department has contracted a private organisation, Life Without Barriers, to support the 30 Afghan youths.

Life Without Barriers runs programs to assist with disabled and vulnerable people and has won several multimillion-dollar government contracts in recent years. Its Victorian manager, Loretta Perry, yesterday refused to discuss the organisation or its work with the Herald.

Life Without Barriers also works with unaccompanied minors on Christmas Island. It has had six staff at the detention centre since October.

The Immigration Department said the organisation took over the role from the South Australian Department of Families in January, assisting 43 young people in detention in the first half of this year at a cost of more than $835,000.

Amid the debate over the detention centre, Christmas Island yesterday welcomed the Pacific Sun, the first cruise ship to visit.