25 November 2003

Fraser petition turns world focus on child detainees

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser is turning to the internet to pressure the Howard Government to soften its hardline policy on children in immigration detention.

Mr Fraser has set up an online petition calling for an end to the policy under which more than 180 children are in detention in Australia and on Nauru. 'Damaging children is not acceptable to us as Australians,' the petition says.

The idea was inspired by an online petition launched by Amnesty International against the death sentence imposed on a Nigerian woman found guilty of adultery. It attracted 1.3 million signatures from 100 countries before the conviction was overturned.

'If a lot of people sign this petition, it will say something. If not many people do, it will say something else,' Mr Fraser said yesterday. 'Why not use modern communications techniques and see what results you get?'

Mr Fraser's petition says the oldest children in detention are living out their teens behind razor wire and electric fences. 'The youngest is a baby born a month ago who was placed in detention in Baxter shortly after his birth,' it says. 'Some children in Australian detention centres have been unnecessarily imprisoned for years.'

Mr Fraser posted his petition on the website yesterday.

Mr Fraser was philosophical about the prospects of success. 'One day the policy will change. I don't expect it to be very soon, but it is important to keep these issues alive.'

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