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Malcolm Fraser slams asylum seeker policy

Monday 16 February 2015 | Published in Regional


canberra – Former prime minister of Australia Malcolm Fraser has hit out at the current asylum seeker policy of offshore detention on Papua New Guinea and Nauru, saying the past two governments have chosen a policy it knows will harm people.

Fraser was Liberal Party Prime Minister in the 1970s and has launched a scathing attack on Tony Abbott and his government over its treatment of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and, in particular, its president, Gillian Triggs.

The Commission’s ‘Forgotten Children’ report has recently called for a royal commission into the detention of children under both Labour and Coalition governments.

The report found that detention had caused significant mental and physical illness to children and was in breach of Australia’s international obligations.

In parliament, Abbott dismissed the call and described the report as a “transparent stitch-up” and launched an angry and extended attack on the integrity and credibility of Professor Triggs.

Liberal Party elder Nick Greiner has joined Fraser in a counter-attack on the Abbott government’s “abhorrent” practice of locking up children in immigration detention, saying Australia should join the rest of the civilised world and scrap the policy.

Greiner described as “very sad” the government’s disparaging response last week to an Australian Human Rights Commission report that revealed alarming rates of physical and sexual abuse against children in detention centres.

The strong criticism by the former NSW premier adds to a chorus of concern raised by other Liberal identities.

Former PM Fraser spoke out on Saturday morning in support of HRC president Triggs, saying Abbott had handled the report very badly.

“If the government had wanted to handle the matter sensibly, they would have said they recognise there have been abuses,” he said.

“They would have said they will examine those abuses and have been, indeed, since they got the report in November – which, obviously, they haven’t been – and they would have thanked the Commission for its work and said, ‘we’ve got to get children out of detention as soon as possible’.”

“Now, instead of doing that, they’ve chosen to attack the commission as a body and to attack the chairperson in particular, which I think is outrageous. I know Gillian Triggs. She’s a very good, distinguished lawyer,” he said.

Fraser denied suggestions Triggs had a political agenda or that the commission had a case to answer.

“Absolutely not. She is fulfilling the charter laid out in the legislation,” he said.

“I actually believe that, when this dies over, which it will do, that the people who are going to be damaged by the whole incident are the people in the government and the prime minister in particular, because the Commission’s reputation stands high amongst all sorts of people.”

“Even Australians who take a very, very hard line about asylum seekers – and unfortunately there are more than I would like to think – are probably a bit uncomfortable with the kind of treatment that has been meted out to children in detention by the Australian government in their name.”

Fraser said the response from Abbott to the report showed he had not changed his “bully-boy” leadership style since the spill motion last week.

Set up in 1986 as Australia’s national human rights watchdog, the HRC has the authority to investigate possible breaches of federal human rights and anti-discrimination laws.

Its president, Professor Triggs is a former barrister who was appointed to the job in 2012.