Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Asylum Seekers

3:59 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Sport (Senator Lundy) to a question without notice asked by Senator Hanson-Young today relating to detention centres.

Earlier today, during question time, I asked the minister some very serious questions about the conditions facing asylum seekers—refugees—including children, on Manus Island. Overnight we heard more horrific reports on the conditions within the detention centre on Nauru. These types of circumstances—these reports of the conditions of the facilities and the way people are being treated in these places—are very, very serious matters and yet, we heard no response from Senator Lundy today to the questions in relation to those conditions. All the minister wanted to do was to give the already-written brief on why this government supports offshore processing, rather than the conditions in those facilities that we now hear from the minister, very directly during question time, that the Australian government is responsible for.

When I visited Manus Island last week I was shocked at the conditions that these people were living in. When I was there—and the numbers have grown since, because there were more people taken to Manus Island in the few days since I left—there were 236 people, including 34 children aged between seven and 17. The living conditions are that the family groups live in small container blocks that have been converted into living quarters sheds. It was not until I arrived—on the exact day that I arrived—that they put doors on those rooms. Those people had been living in these facilities for over two months, and yet it was only on the day that I arrived that doors were put on the rooms that the families sleep in. I had stories from mothers who were thankful that we had arrived, because they said, 'Finally, I can get changed in my own room without having to ask my children to hold up a bed sheet.' They can have some privacy and dignity in changing their clothes each morning.

I walked through into the compound that holds the single adult males, and they were living in tents—quite small, green army tents. There are five men to each tent and no air conditioning. Obviously, Manus Island gets a lot of rain and the tent floor was only about three inches off the ground. When it rains their tents become flooded. In these tents the temperature hovers anywhere from 35 to 45 degrees. On the day that I was there it was pretty hot—it was about 35 degrees inside the tent. I said, 'This is pretty hot,' and they said, 'Oh, today is actually a cool day.'

I walked outside from where the tents are and the asylum seekers wanted me to see the bathroom facilities. There are no toilet doors on the men's toilets in this detention camp. Five men to each tent, no space and no ability to get outside—this is a closed, locked facility; this is a prison—and they cannot even go to the toilet in peace. They cannot even go to the toilet without guards watching them. How is that showing the dignity and respect that Minister Lundy tried to tell us here earlier this government is upholding?

There is a makeshift school for the children in this facility. It is two rooms in an old hangar shed from when the area at this detention centre was used as part of an army camp. There are no doors on that school and there is no air conditioning, and they are wondering why the children do not want to go to the makeshift school every day. It is because it is too hot. It is because they cannot sleep at night with no doors and no air conditioning in their cramped rooms. It is because they are terrified about why they had been detained in prison as children who have seen some pretty horrific scenes. This government has to start taking these conditions seriously and to clean them up. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.