Jennifer Rajca, AAP
Tony Abbott has flatly rejected the need for a royal commission into the abuse of children in immigration detention, instead launching a blistering attack on the human rights watchdog and Labor.
The prime minister accused the Australian Human Rights Commission of running a ‘blatantly partisan’ inquiry into the issue and engaging in ‘transparent stitch-ups’.
Commission president Gillian Triggs hit back, insisting the inquiry’s report, which found prolonged, mandatory detention of children caused significant mental and physical illness, was fair-minded.
After a 10-month investigation, which covered the period of both Labor and coalition governments, the commission concluded the policy of holding asylum-seeker children in detention was a clear violation of international human rights law.
‘I totally reject any suggestion that this report is a politicised exercise,’ Professor Triggs told reporters.
Despite the government’s criticism of the inquiry’s findings she said it was entirely realistic to hope for a royal commission.
That hope was dashed by Mr Abbott as he used parliament’s question time to lash Labor over its record in government, when the number of children in detention peaked at 2000.
By contrast, the coalition had reduced the numbers from 1400 in mid-2013 to under 200 now.
‘I am going to do the leader of the opposition this favour – there won’t be a royal commission,’ Mr Abbott said.
‘Frankly, they [Labor] stand condemned already.’
Mr Abbott taunted both Labor and the commission about their concern for human rights, telling them they should write a congratulatory letter to former immigration minister Scott Morrison who had stopped the boats and released children from detention.
Where was the commission when Labor was in office, he asked. ‘The boats were coming, the people were drowning, and the children in detention were mounting up and up and up.’
Earlier, Mr Abbott said he had no guilt about locking up children in detention, bluntly telling Fairfax Radio: ‘None whatsoever.’
Mr Morrison said he would leave it up to voters to make up their own minds about the government’s record on asylum seekers.
‘I think the Australian people aren’t mugs,’ he said.
His successor Peter Dutton denied the government was pursuing a ‘political witchhunt’ against Prof Triggs.
Labor defended the commission’s work, arguing both sides of politics should take note of its findings.
Its immigration spokesman Richard Marles said ‘obviously things need to be done better’.
The Greens called for the end of ‘institutionalised child abuse’.
‘These aren’t things that we can simply turn a blind eye to and laugh off,’ immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young told the Senate. The Greens support the commission’s call for a royal commission.