Q&A, Refugees and Children In Detention

'I would put forward the idea we should have an advocate whose job it is to be the guardian for those kids because at the moment their guardian and their…

By Tara Moss

Nov 28, 2013

UNICEF National Ambassador for Child Survival Tara Moss pictured with former immigration minister Chris Bowen on the ABC’s Q&A program, November 25, 2013:

On refugee children in Australian detention centres, at 42:09:

‘I have spoken out about this as Mr Bowen might remember when he was Immigration Minister…one thing we need to keep in mind is our Immigration Minister is the guardian of the un-attended minors who come here. I would put forward the idea we should have an advocate whose job it is to be the guardian for those kids because at the moment their guardian and their jailer are the same person and I don’t think that’s right.’ – Tara Moss

Watch the 2 1/2 minute clip, below:

Watch the full program at ABC iView: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3878650.htm

Transcript from Q&A:

BRIAN DAVIES: My question is for Julian Burnside. Our government vilifies asylum seekers by falsely accusing them of being illegals. They’ve set up a wall of secrecy around them. They lock up innocent men, women and children in concentration camps without charge or trial. Now Tony Abbott’s condoned human rights abuses in Sri Lanka and he has provided ships so that people under persecution can’t escape, should we condemn these shameful actions as unworthy of Australia?

TONY JONES: Now, I know you said it is for Julian. I’m going to throw it to Tara first because we haven’t heard from Tara for a while.

TARA MOSS: Look, that’s a question that really goes to the heart of something that has been bothering me a great deal. You know, I don’t understand how we became so extreme. I really don’t.

I have been in Australia for nearly two decades now and last week I was very fortunate to be at Parliament House in my role as UNICEF ambassador for child survival, speaking to Senate members, members of Parliament from all sides of politics and these are passionate, real people who care about kids, who care about child rights and I cannot understand how those people and how Australia in general has become a country so extreme where we lock up kids in detentions, where we separate a mother from her newborn infant, when that infant is in neo-natal intensive care. I’ve had a child in neo-natal intensive care. I can tell you to go without seeing her through the night would have killed me, you know. So why do we do this? Why is this a matter of national security to protect us from kids who are escaping terrible trauma? And we can’t pretend these traumas aren’t happening. We know they are because we know what is happening in Syria. We see it on the news every day and we have troops in Afghanistan. We know that these terrible things are happening. So I really don’t understand how we became such an extreme country in this respect and when we look at the international community, we see that, indeed, we have become extreme.

The UNICEF emergency chief was speaking to us at Parliament House and he is stationed – he is an Australian and he is stationed, at the moment, in Beirut and Lebanon, as a contrast, has an open border policy and in a country where they have a total population about that of Sydney, they now have nearly a million refugees there from Syria, about half of whom are children. So about one in five people in Lebanon right now is a refugee and those people in the community, they are actually enrolling those kids into their schools as much as they can and they’ve overburdened by this. So we look at that and we think how did we get so extreme we are greeting people who come here seeking help, we are greeting them with our military boats? I struggle to understand this and I am hoping some of the colleagues can help…

TONY JONES: I mean, I imagine you are actually talking about both the previous government and the current government.

TARA MOSS: Absolutely. Absolutely.

TONY JONES: Well, let’s hear from Chris Bowen.

TARA MOSS: And I have spoken out about this, as Mr Bowen might well remember, when he was Immigration Minister and another thing, just quickly, I know I am taking time here.

TONY JONES: It will have to be quick because we don’t have a lot of time.

TARA MOSS: Absolutely. One thing we need to keep in mind is our Immigration Minister is the guardian of the unattended minors who come here and I would put forward the idea that we should have an advocate whose job it is to be the guardian for those kids because at the moment their guardian and their jailer are the same person and I think that’s not right.

* Related: ‘UN inspectors find children in detention in distress, living in hot, cramped conditions with no schooling, poor mental health’.

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  1. Clive

    Bravo, well stated Tara. If adults in detention can show signs of mental stress how awful it must be for a child. Oprah Winfrey once stated that emotional pain for children must be ‘multiplied 100 times’.

  2. Arne

    You made my night being on QA last night Tara, I had only heard of you years ago in an article in the Courier Mail newspaper, describing your determination in getting info for your novels. Always wanted to read one of your novels and more about you as a person, very intriguing. So last night it was a reminder. Just did a good ol google and had no idea about all your achievements, you’re one incredible lady !!

    I was born in Germany and was always intrigued by how Hitler and his regime and all the evil to go with it actually came about and why people supported him and were ‘fooled’ by him. I used to ask my Grandmother lots of questions about how she lived through the years of the war and brought up 2 kids during and post war time. I was very inquisitive to hear about life when people had pretty much nothing and food was the essential luxury for survival.

    The complex issue of refugees definitely has no simple solution and I find it sad that it seems to have become a political topic to attract votes but is only skimmed on the surface as to solutions. A common vibe I get from people when the topic comes up is ” ah,send em all back where they came from”. Obviously our media doesn’t cover enough footage of what life is like where these people are trying to get away from. Then the question is why are these places in such a state in this day and age?? So it gets more complicated and starts to delve into political corruption and types of government running these countries.
    I know as a civilian if I were in a situation where my government was so corrupt and my life was at risk every day due to uprise by force with deadly weapons against the government by fanatical groups, I would do anything I could to protect my family and get out of such a situation. I think most people would instinctively want to do that.

    I definitely agree with the need for a guardian other than the jailer scenario !! Well said. You’ve become my new heroine Tara, very well spoken thoughtful individual (not just on last nights topic, but also breast feeding etc – from your web site /blogs)

  3. Jessica

    Dear Tara,

    Thanks so much for your eloquence and compassion.

    ChilOut has been fighting to have children released from detention for over 10 years. We have witnessed over the time the demonisation of humanity, and the degradation of values, until it becomes ok to lock up a child, to damage one child, supposedly to save another from drowning. We have indeed become extreme. Like you I cannot fathom how we have come to this horrible place.

    Thank you for speaking out for the children.

    All the best


  4. Graham Forbes

    Well done Tara, right to the point on the extreme position that Australia now seems to project to the rest of the world. I started a petition on this issue in an attempt to demonstrate that not all people agree with the current approach and language from most of our politicians, but it is going very slowly, perhaps because most people don’t care.


    I hope you and your followers can add to the numbers. Standing up to be counted is what makes a difference.

    Congratulations on using your public profile to champion important issues. Keep it up,


  5. Mike Best

    I loved hearing you on Q&A Tara, you put your points across so clearly and eloquently that there was no way anyone would have been able to mount a rational argument against what you were saying. It’s such a shame that clear thinkers like yourself and Julian Burnside are so few and far between in this horrible ongoing debate about refugees and asylum-seekers

    As Chair of a not-for-profit Community Legal Centre which provides free legal services to refugees and asylum seekers, I would love to catch up with you when you’re next in Perth. Maybe we could even convince you to speak at one of our fundraisers 🙂

    Keep up the great work Tara



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