OPINION: Child detention is costly, cruel and wrong
IT REALLY is hard to think of another example where taxpayer's money is spent deliberately damaging vulnerable children's lives.
Last week the Human Rights Inquiry into Children in Detention heard a number of distressing accounts from health professionals employed in Australia's off-shore detention centres.
A hearing aid taken from a child. Medication and medical records destroyed.
Accounts of sexual abuse and children self-harming.
The author of the recent Australian Churches Taskforce on Refugees report on children in detention, the Reverend Dr Peter Catt, describes the policy as state sanctioned child abuse.
More than 150 school students gathered in Queens Park last Wednesday as part of a lantern walk for refugees and asylum seekers.
A statement from the Australian Catholic Bishops was read out.
In part it stated, "The policy can win acceptance only if the asylum seekers are kept faceless and nameless. It depends upon a process of de-humanisation. Such a policy would be widely rejected if the faces and names were known. Bishops have seen the faces; we know the names; we have heard the stories. That is why we say now, enough of this institutionalised cruelty."
Some might find it a bit rich for the churches to be labelling a policy child abuse.
Fair rap, but as Human Rights Lawyer Julian Burnside says, "You don't need a bleeding heart to know that asylum seekers should be treated humanely: Just a beating one."
I've said it before - what is immoral about the way we treat asylum seekers is that we use one group of people to send a message to others.
Last week's inquiry heard that immigration officials specifically selected young children to send to off-shore detention centres so that those watching would get the message, "Don't bother sending your children. It will make no difference."
I know, I know - we're preventing deaths at sea. But at what stage do means stop justifying the ends?
Wherever that line is, I for one believe that we've well and truly crossed it. Minister Morrison's logic goes something like this.
"It is really unfortunate but we have to be cruel to children so that other asylum seekers get the message and don't hop on the boats thereby risking their lives.
"Then eventually there will be no need to put children in detention because there won't be anybody coming by boat."
Cruel to be kind or burning a village down in order to save it. I have been challenged recently by the notion of the "permissible victim".
This idea is that in certain circumstances a community or society decides that innocent individuals may have to suffer for the greater good.
In most cases these "permissible victims" have little or no voice. They are "the other" or "the outsider". In this case they are also children.
It's easy to forget that we are not talking about criminals here. These are desperate people seeking our country's protection.
And what's more this involves children. It is very clear that detaining children behind razor wire is bad for their physical and mental health.
It is expensive. It is cruel and it is just plain wrong. And there are other ways.
As is already happening in some parts of Australia, children can remain in community detention while living in the wider community.
They can attend school, play sport and interact with others while their claim for refugee status is assessed.
It is cheaper, it is more humane. It is the right thing to do. At times like this I am reminded of the words of anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce.
"You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know."