Author: Latika Bourke
London: George Brandis has confirmed the Australian government is aiming to have all child asylum seekers off Nauru by the end of the year, after being grilled on an influential London radio station about Australia’s treatment of refugees.
The former Attorney-General, now Australia’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom, brushed aside repeated questions during his interview with Shelagh Fogarty on talkback station LBC and said there were “hardly any children” on the tiny Pacific island.
On Monday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said there were 50 children left on the island and that his intention was to get that to zero, with 200 children having already been transferred to Australia.
Fairfax Media understands that, as of Thursday, that number had already fallen to below 40.
“This is a problem that has largely gone away. There are hardly any children in Nauru and in New Guinea and we expect that by the end of this year there’ll be none,” he said.
Ms Fogarty repeatedly questioned Mr Brandis about why Australia detained child asylum seekers, unlike comparable countries, including Britain, which exempt minors from detention.
Mr Brandis said a lot of the criticism directed at Australia over its human rights record was “simply wrong-headed”.
“We are very strict on illegal entrants, we are very generous towards refugees and we are very embracing of, and very proud of, having a large intake of migrants every year,” he said.
In recent weeks, the government has been under intense pressure to resolve what many doctors and other health professionals called a mental health crisis on the island.
Mr Brandis said children were provided with taxpayer-funded health and mental health services.
When asked if he accepted the criticism, he said he “notes” it.