The following speech was made to the Geelong Refugee Collective protest against immigration detention in September 2011.

I’ve been visiting immigration detention centres since 2001 and have witnessed firsthand the reality of immigration detention.  In this time, I’ve seen many events and situations that I cannot believe are occurring in my country.  For the past year, I’ve been visiting the boys and young men who’ve been held as unaccompanied minors at the Broadmeadows Immigration Detention Centre.

While I’m thrilled to be able to say that the vast majority of these boys have now been released from Broadmeadows, and are starting to get on with their lives in the outside world, a small group was transported back across the country, to immigration detention in Darwin, where they wait, unsure about their cases, prevented by Australian authorities from going to school, and overwhelmed by anxiety and despair for their futures.

Since 1992, more than 20,000 people, including 5,000 children, have been deprived of their freedom, and incarcerated in what are effectively maximum security prison environments, by successive Australian governments.  

The vast majority of them have been held in detention for longer than six months, many of them for years.

These 20,000 people, upwards of 80% of whom have been recognised as refugees, have suffered as the collateral damage for the delusions of the Immigration Department and Australian governments, who believe in locking up asylum seekers as a deterrent to what they have convinced themselves will be otherwise unstoppable waves of boat people.

This delusion has brought us to the point this year, where the Gillard Labor government has had 6,000 people, a record 900 of them children, locked up in secure detention facilities around the country.  And their solution?  Another delusional policy proposal, to engage in the supposed deterrent of people swapping with Malaysia.  We can be profoundly grateful that this latest round of delusion was brought to a end by the High Court.

But unfortunately, as we’ve seen this week, in the victim blaming predictions of the Department of Immigration and members of the Labor front bench after the High Court decision, the delusions, murky logic and unfounded statements keep coming, unchanged in their fundamental lack of evidence.

And it seems incredible that under a Labor government, a government which had vowed to end the detention of children and unaccompanied minors, this year, we’ve had the highest number of children ever held in immigration detention in Australia, far overshadowing the Howard government’s previous record of 842 children (on 1st September 2001).  And now, despite Minister Bowen’s promises to release these children, there are still unaccompanied minors held in immigration detention facilities around the nation.

Let’s put aside Labor’s bizarre double standards, its Orwellian references to alternative detention and its disrespect and disregard for the laws of this land and for the High Court.

Let’s ignore the fact that immigration detention is a complete breach of the human rights of the most vulnerable.

And let’s ignore the fact that large numbers of detainees arrive in Australia to reunite with family members, and that these people would qualify under the family reunion scheme, if it were operating adequately, as it has in previous decades.

Putting all these problems aside – surely, after nearly two decades of this detention regime, this year’s current record numbers alone are evidence that detention is failing as a deterrent.

With the recent High Court decision, we have the opportunity to turn our backs on the offshore implementation of this disastrous regime.   Let’s admit to ourselves that regardless of what Australia does in terms of policy, asylum seekers will continue to seek refuge in our country, which is one of 15 nations offering humanitarian resettlement as a signatory to the International Convention on Refugees.

Next year is the twenty year anniversary of immigration detention in Australia.

This would make a fitting time for its demise, and for a return to policy based on Australia’s bottom line commitments as a signatory nation to the UN Convention on Refugees and the Rights of the Child and for a return to policy based on sanity, reality and human rights for all.