12 February, 2015 - HRC report response: Aid cut as money spent on denying child rights

Plan International Australia Deputy CEO Susanne Legena is available for interviews and grabs. Please call Adam Cathro on 0488 202 945 to arrange.

The Australian government is denying millions of children their basic rights to education and health by slashing aid while at the same time spending billions of dollars on a system of offshore processing that is itself denying the basic rights of children in places like Nauru, says child rights organisation and NGO Plan International Australia following yesterday’s release of the Human Rights Commission’s report into immigration detention.

Last year, the government slashed 20 per cent from the aid budget in the next financial year alone. In 2014, $11 billion was torn from the Australian aid budget, reducing it to the most miserly levels ever seen in this country.

But as the aid budget has been slashed, the funds allocated to offshore processing are rising – they reached around $1.2 billion in the last financial year alone – so money is effectively being siphoned from the aid budget to fund offshore detention centres. Previously, offshore processing was directly financed through the Australian aid program.

There is believed to be more than 200 children in detention on the Pacific island of Nauru.

“Australia’s aid budget is supposed to support children in realising their full potential, by providing them a quality education, access to lifesaving healthcare and access to crucial things like clean drinking water,” says Susanne Legena, Deputy CEO of Plan International Australia.

“Already we know that brutal cuts in Australian aid will have a shocking impact on how many children we can support in the developing world. But to make matters worse, we know that the cuts are being used to finance an offshore processing scheme that is keeping innocent kids in unspeakable conditions in places like Nauru,” Legena says.

“I cannot imagine any Australian would accept these conditions for their own children, yet they are actually paying for it to happen to someone else’s. That is just shameful,” she says.

Today’s Human Rights Commission report says more than 300 children committed or threatened self-harm in immigration detention, 30 reported sexual assault and nearly 30 went on hunger strike. More than 200 were involved in assaults. The report calls for a Royal Commission into children in Australian immigration detention.

“The Human Rights Commission was not allowed to officially report on conditions on Nauru, because it is not within Australia’s borders. But we at Plan International have extensive and decades-long experience working with children beyond Australia’s borders, and know what they require to enjoy the happy childhood we all want for our children and which leads to a positive and productive life in adulthood.”

“We are calling on the government to release all children in detention in Australia’s care, both within and beyond the country’s borders. These children are living in appalling and soul-destroying conditions even though they are in our care, and it is everyday Australians who are paying for this,” Legena says.

She also renewed Plan International Australia’s call for an independent monitor for children in immigration detention. “With children stuck in an immigration prison with no foreseeable prospect of leaving, it is clear that the government cannot be trusted to act in their best interest – which is why an independent monitor is so badly needed,” she says.

“An independent authority could be the champion of these children, ensuring that Australia finally does the right thing by them. I’m sure that if Australians looked into their hearts, they would want nothing less for them.”

Legena notes that the Federal Government appears ready to hand over $40 million in aid to the Cambodian government in return for settling asylum seekers there – but so far none have agreed to go to the country.

“The Cambodia deal is seeing Australian aid squandered in a fruitless search for a so-called Pacific solution.”

Editors’ notes:
Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world, founded 75 years ago, working in 51 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 21 donor countries. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.

Media contact: Adam Cathro, Plan International Australia, Media Relations Manager, 0488 202 945