Eight former Australians of the Year have penned an open letter urging for the immediate release of asylum seeker children from detention.



Prominent Australians who have signed the letter included:  Ian Kiernan (1994), Professor Peter Doherty (1997), Professor Gustav Nossal (2000), Professor Fiona Stanley (2003), Professor Ian Frazer (2006), Professor Pat McGorry (2010), Simon McKeon (2011) and Geoffrey Rush (2012)

The letter, addressed to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, writes: 

“Australia is a country that justly prides itself on our commitment to fairness and equality. We are a country of hope, with a commitment to the freedom and dignity of all people, embracing the strength in our diversity, that strives to protect the rights of the most vulnerable.

“Indefinite detention of children and babies is at odds with these hopes and principles. 135 children, including babies who were born in Australia, are currently held indefinitely in harsh and unsafe conditions on Nauru.

“Late last year, we were encouraged that the government took the welcome step of announcing the imminent release of child asylum-seekers, scheduled to occur before Christmas. However, we are now concerned that despite this promise, 333 children remain behind wire.

“These children and their parents came to us in desperation, seeking our help. They came to us seeking safety, knowing of Australia’s reputation as a fair, inclusive and just society and knowing we are a people who are never afraid to lend a hand to those in need.”

The letter was organised through UNICEF, which has consistently argued against children in detention. 

“Children who have sought asylum and been detained for many months are extremely vulnerable and should never be used as political leverage as has been alleged here. Detention causes harm to all children, and no children should be left behind,” the organisation has previously said.