Sunday, July 21, 2002

DEPARTMENT OF IT WORKED SO WELL THE FIRST TIME WE TRIED IT.

Or We Don’t Need No Stinking Child Welfare Provisions!

As part of a strategy of shifting targets, many activists and anti-government campaigners are focusing on the issue of children in detention. This is a smart media strategy, as it is obvious that part of the job description for being a staff journo these days is to respond to any picture of kiddies in distress by jettisoning that last flickering objectivity. Which brings us codswallop like this
The technical rights and wrongs of the case didn't seem so important.

Here “technical” is used as a put-down for all those pesky details like due process, rule of law, transparent decisions and reviewable procedures. Can’t wait to hear the Journo’s Union’s
response to Rupert Murdoch’s next “technical” interference in editorial policy.

But back to the issue: children in detention. Do I like it? No. Do I see much realistic alternative? Not to speak of.

The idea of the week is to release them into the community, either the children by themselves, or mothers and children. Apparently the immigration industry does not see the father-child bond as sufficiently credible to worry about.

Now here’s the thing
Generally, 84% of all asylum seekers are found to be legitimate refugees and are able to stay in Australia.

Put the other way, for every six asylum seekers released into the community, one will be found not to be a genuine refugee either by the UN or Australian standards, and will face deportation. It will be a commonplace that children will have to be placed back in detention with their parent(s), to await deportation.

How do we get them back out of the general community? What possible guarantee is there that the folk who care for the children will co-operate when the system finally grinds out a decision, when all appeals are used up?

One answer is some form of surety, either from the asylum seekers community, or from the foster home, or a mix. Are we going to start taking houses? Cars? What happens when the foster carer goes to school to find out the Refugee Liberation Army has plucked the child from the schoolyard? Do we take their house? How much should we spend on police and immigration officials to start kicking in doors looking for the children? Ask yourself this: After the fact, can the police tell the difference between a 12 year old who has “gone underground” and one who has been kidnapped? How long before some enterprising paedophile figures out this is an easy way to throw off pursuit? If this sounds alarmist, consider why millions are spent installing child protection before it’s needed.

Already we have seen an existing, fairly efficient network of people who are prepared to hide fugitives from detention. The fugitives can be moved interstate and held secretly away from relatives. There is nothing to indicate this network will not move into action the moment they think the appeals process is not going to deliver the desired outcome. When one of these kids goes missing, there will be no safeguard to their welfare other than the good intentions of unnamed, unaccountable, uncontactable do-gooders. They decide for themselves what laws should be obeyed, and what laws can be disregarded. It’s one thing to protest on the street, get yourself banged up. Then it’s only you. But it’s another thing altogether to make secret, unaccountable decisions about the welfare of children.

And this is what worries me most about self-appointed guardians of what is Good and Just and Fair.

It’s been tried before. The popular name for it is the Stolen Generation. When well-fed, safe white folks decide they know what’s best for the little dark children, and maybe just snatch them. Except when aboriginal children were removed, at least we knew where they went. You might not like it, but the public had a shot at seeing them and hearing about their welfare.

Fugitive children will have no access to education, whatsoever. They will not be able to visit a doctor who is not in on the deal, and is prepared to risk conviction and loss of license. Certainly, they can’t get into a public hospital. As they get older, they won’t get a legal job without a Tax Number, and they won’t get decent jobs because they’ll be utterly uneducated. They will not be able to play with other children, because one of them might give the game away. If an adult abuses them in any way, who will they talk to?

Full disclosure: part of the following is through ideas from, and discussions with, my good lady wife.

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