Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has been questioned over the difference between a prison and a detention centre at an inquiry into child detention in Canberra today.
Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs told the inquiry she saw little difference between a locked detention and a prison.
“I have been a practising lawyer since I was 22 years old and I have been to many prisons. I know a prison when I see it,” she said.
Morrison fired back, questioning Triggs’ judgement before asking her to move on, “You’ve been in prisons, so you are telling me that the Phosphate Hill compound on Christmas Island is the same as Long Bay jail?” he asked.
Morrison told the inquiry into child detention that “sentiment cannot be indulged at the expense of effective policy” when it comes to Operation Sovereign Borders.
Morrison said he had seen “too many children die at sea” not to pursue the policies he was pursuing and that the government would not allow its offshore approach to be weakened, The Guardian reported.
“As a parent of two young children, the emotional challenges of working in this policy portfolio are just as real and just as great as they would be for any other parent in my position,” Morrison said.
“But sentiment cannot be indulged at the expense of effective policy; that is, saving lives and ending the chaos and tragedy that was occurring that many thought could never be turned around”.
Morrison said he would like to see child detention claims assessed but blamed the opposition for delays to this process in Australia.
“I have been extremely frustrated about the inability to get to that point… It’s interesting that we were able to get processing moving more quickly offshore than onshore because of the actions of Labor and the Greens”.
Paris Aristotle, chair of the Minister’s Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention also gave evidence at the inquiry.
The council provides independent advice to the minister on services and policies relating to immigration but does not advise on matters relating to Operation Sovereign Borders.
“We’ve always held the view that detention of children should be avoided but when it occurs it should only be for the shortest possible time,” Aristotle said.
Aristotle also said research “clearly indicates that long-term detention of children and families is harmful to their mental health”.
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