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Abbott scornful of Australian child abuse report

12 February 2015 14:44 (Last updated 12 February 2015 14:45)
Prime minister attacks report on abuse of refugee children in detention

MELBOURNE, Australia

The body behind a report detailing hundreds of cases of child abuse in Australia’s immigration centers was attacked Thursday by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, local media reported.

The Australian Human Rights Commission should be “ashamed of itself,” Abbott said in an interview on 3AW radio in Melbourne.

The commission’s report, published Wednesday, found evidence of 233 recorded assaults and 33 incidents of reported sexual assault involving children held in Australia’s refugee detention centers.

It also reported 207 incidents of self-harm and 436 incidents of threatened self-harm among children.

Calling for the children to be released immediately, the report noted that a third of detained children had developed severe mental illnesses that required psychiatric treatment.

In an attack on the commission, Abbott said: "Where was the Human Rights Commission during the life of the former government when hundreds of people were drowning at sea?

"Frankly this is a blatantly partisan politicized exercise and the Human Rights Commission ought to be ashamed of itself."

The prime minister, who leads the conservative Liberal-National coalition government, was asked if he felt any guilt over conditions facing children detained. "None whatsoever," he replied.

The 315-page human rights report called for a Royal Commission on the detention of children. It said Australia currently holds about 800 children in detention for indefinite periods, including 186 children on Nauru island, an offshore center.

In detention centers on Australian soil, children have been held for an average of 14 months, the report stated.

The Immigration Ministry’s latest figures show 211 children held in detention centers, including 119 on Nauru. In his interview Abbott claimed the total number in detention was “under 200.”

The report interviewed 1,129 children and parents in detention from January 2013 to March 2014, when both the coalition and the previous Labor government were in office.

Addressing Australian lawmakers later, Abbott ruled out a Royal Commission and questioned why the inquiry was not launched when the Labor government was in power and there were almost 2,000 children in detention.

"I am going to do the Leader of the opposition this favor - I'm going to do him in this favor - there won't be a royal commission into children in detention, because if there were...it would condemn [Labor]," he said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Abbott said Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs should thank Scott Morrison, the former immigration minister, for reducing the number of children in detention.

On Thursday, Triggs said: "Both sides of politics are responsible for breaches of our international obligations. Alternatives to indefinite detention, such as community detention, have not been properly considered by government decision makers and the safety and wellbeing of children has not been a primary consideration."

She added: "This is not a politicized exercise. It is a fair report."

In her foreword to the report, Triggs said the evidence “demonstrates unequivocally that prolonged detention of children leads to serious negative impacts on their mental and emotional health and development.”

Australia currently detains all asylum seekers who arrive by boat and holds them in offshore processing camps. It refuses to resettle those found to be refugees in Australia.

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