A national inquiry is needed into the handling of children in detention because the immigration department has refused to cooperate with the Australian Human Rights Commission, its president says.
Gillian Triggs will on Monday release the terms of reference and a discussion paper into why a year-long inquiry is needed into the mandatory detention of children seeking asylum in Australia.
Professor Triggs said the human rights body wanted to know more about the mental health impacts of detention, how children are being treated “when they’re manifesting conditions of extreme anxiety”, and why some are transferred offshore to Nauru and other are not.
“I think I’d have to say that over the last few months we’ve had minimal cooperation (from the immigration department) in relation to the kinds of details that I need to know, particularly mental health and self harm, and the processes for assessing those that are transferred,” she told ABC Radio.
Prof Triggs said the commission were not against mandatory detention for an “appropriate” period so the identity of children could be established, and to make sure they are given the required vaccinations and medical treatment.
“However, we are concerned that when the times move beyond three to four months to six to 12 to 15 months, the likelihood is that we will be finding that there are breaches of international law,” she said.
Asked how many children fell into that category, she said “certainly hundreds”.
“That’s a pretty large number to be dealing with,” she said.