Actions about Children in Detention

by ray goodlass

My Op Ed column about refugee children in detention (the ‘We’re better than this’ celebrity action, and the local Children’s Cage event to take place here in Wagga this Thursday and Friday on the forecourt of the Civic Centre) published in the Daily Advertiser today.

Here’s the full text:

Children in detention

It is the nature of newspaper Opinion Pieces to comment on something that has already happened, and that is how this week’s column starts, but fortunately this time it can go on the discuss something that is about to happen locally.

Firstly, what has already happened, and a comment to begin. Putting the often dubious nature of celebrity to good use high profile Australian sports stars, actors and media personalities have come together in a slick television and online campaign with a simple message to the Australian government: remove children from immigration detention.

Titled “We’re better than this” they include former Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell and  journalist Ita Buttrose who criticised the incarceration of asylum seeker children, particularly in the offshore processing centre in Nauru and the detention centre on Christmas Island.

They are joined by actress Deborah Mailman, author Tom Keneally, and film critic Margaret Pomeranz in the short one minute advertisement, while Bernard Fanning from Powderfinger has lent his musical skills to the production.

I’ll believe every child deserves a safe place to play,” Ian Chappell says in the video. “I mean Christmas Island, it’s a phosphate mine; it’s dangerous and it’s dirty and it’s got to affect the health of children. We’re better than this.”

Rosie Scott, an author and the founder of the movement, said she wanted to attract the attention of mainstream Australia through a campaign that could shine a light on the “horrors of children in detention”.

“This is just the beginning.”

There are currently 603 children being held in Immigration detention, including on Christmas Island, and 186 children being held in Nauru, according to the Department of Immigration. The average length of detention is currently 413 days.

Children kept in immigration detention are shown to suffer from high rates of depression and mental health problems.

In July the government’s medical health group the International Health and Medical Service told an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention that the Immigration Department requested they withdraw alarming mental health figures of children in their report.

The ‘about to happen locally’ aspect of this column is the ‘Free the Children’ event taking place at the (Wagga) Civic Centre forecourt all day each day on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 December.

Part of a national tour organised by ChilOut and the Australian Coalition to End Immigration Detention of Children its centre point is ‘cage’ installation created by ‘Agency of Sculpture’ in which are dolls symbolising the children locked up by our government.

The public are invited to ‘free a child’ by entering the cage and remove the doll’s ID card, which is a letter to federal MPs and the Immigration Minister – a symbolic but also direct and positive way to take action on this important issue.

After the Wagga Wagga event the cage will move on Leeton and Griffith