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Labor's deputy leader Tanya Plibersek has called for children to be released from Nauru and mainland detention centres as soon as possible, describing Australia's asylum seeker politics since 2001 as "nothing less than toxic".
Commonwealth Court victory terrifies refugees
Human rights campaigners say refugees are terrified after the High Court threw out a challenge to the Federal Government keeping asylum seekers in detention on Nauru. Courtesy ABC News 24.
Her strong stance places her at odds with shadow immigration spokesman Richard Marles, who on Wednesday defended offshore processing, including for children.
Responding to a letter from 900 prominent academics calling for children to be released from detention, Ms Plibersek said Australia had a moral obligation to do more to address the global refugee crisis and said the debate domestically had "lost rationality, compassion and respect".
Ms Plibersek told the group Labor would establish an independent children's advocate and "will remove children from detention as quickly as possible". Her spokesman said this would include from Nauru.
Ms Plibersek is the only Labor politician to respond to the group of 900 prominent academics, who wrote to every federal MP before Christmas, and again in January, urging the release of children detained in Australia and on Nauru.
Signatories included experts on child psychology, human rights, public policy and the law, from universities across the country.
"There is no way that children's rights to care, protection, and normal human development can be ensured in detention in Australia or Nauru," the group wrote.
"To the contrary, we have considerable evidence of the psychological and emotional harm to children resulting from detention ... We are concerned that each day is doing incalculable emotional, psychological, neurological, and physical damage to young vulnerable people, at a time when they most need security and care."
Labor reintroduced offshore detention on Nauru and Manus Island in 2012. Two years later, the Australian Human Rights Commission found that the policies and practices pursued by both Labor and Coalition governments had been "in serious breach" of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Garfield Prowse, the assistant secretary for the "child protection and wellbeing branch" of Border Force, wrote to the academics on behalf of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, saying the refugee determination and settlement of people on Nauru was a matter for the Nauru government.
"The department continues to work closely with the government of Nauru regarding the welfare of children, including transferees living in the regional processing centre and refugees who have moved into the local community."
Doctors risk jail to speak out about Nauru
Doctors treating children detained on Nauru have described incidents of rape, suicide attempts and self harm on ABC's 730 on Tuesday night.
Mr Prowse said the department "takes steps" to ensure all school-aged children in any form of detention were enrolled in school. Children detained in Australia, he said, received health care equivalent to that of other children in Australia.
There have been repeated reports of sexual assault on Nauru including a five-year-old boy allegedly raped on the island, who is one of 90 children who face being returned to the offshore detention centre after Wednesday's High Court ruling.
A report of a sexual assault among asylum seekers held on Nauru is made every 13 days, most of the alleged victims being children, paediatrician Karen Zwi told the ABC's 7.30 on Tuesday.