IF THE future is in the hands of today's youth and Giselle Newton has any part in it, the world will be a better place.
The Year 12 student from Lismore High School is passionate about the issue of children in Australian immigration detention centres. She's firmly of the opinion they don't belong there.
She's been in Canberra during the past week as one of several ambassadors for ChilOut (Children Out of Immigration Detention Inc).
She's in the company of three 17-year old refugees, Ali, Hussain, and Mutjaba, all of whom came to Australia alone and spent time in Australian immigration detention centres; and Tim, 23, a social justice advocate and psychology student from Edith Cowan University.
She was in Canberra, having just had a meeting with Liberal MP Judi Moylan, when we spoke on the phone.
"We've been putting forward four important points," Giselle tells The Echo.
"Children don't belong in immigration detention, especially in remote locations.
"The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, is the legal guardian for children seeking asylum. Surely he has a conflict of interests - how can he have the best interests of the children at heart?
"The transparency of ASIO worries us. If a person has security issues, there's no way for them to find out what part of their past history has caused them to have a negative ASIO check. 51 asylum-seekers have had negative reports. There are six children associated with them. Those children haven't breached security, but they need the support of their parents. And we believe there should be legislation setting a maximum time children may spend in detention."
ChilOut's campaign director, Sophie Peer, who accompanied Giselle to Canberra, says her passion and sense of justice are an inspiration.
"For the former refugees to know there are young Australians like Giselle and Tim is incredibly important to their journey as residents of Australia," she says.
Giselle tells Mutjaba's story
In Afghanistan, my friend Mutjaba's homeland, there is no queue. There is no embassy. He was born in a refugee camp in Iran, to a Huzara family from Afghanistan. His family tried to return but fled again, back to Iran. His papers were lost. His only choice to get away was to go by boat. He was in Malaysia for two months, too scared to leave his accommodation. He was only 15. Then he spent a year in detention here, trying to get the Immigration Department to allow his family to join him in Australia. When he turned 18, he was told he "didn't need his family any more". And the awful thing is, now when he speaks about it, even though he has a visa and permanent residency in Australia, he's ashamed to say he came by boat. Mutjaba told me being in detention was so traumatic for him that he has to take sleeping pills or he can't sleep. He still wakes up in the early hours of the morning and can't get back to sleep. Last week a psychologist said 60% of asylum seekers experienced mental health problems. Mutjaba has had a year feeling like a criminal, and not being able to do what other kids his age can do. He's happy and grateful to be here, and able to get an education. But he thinks every day about his family in Afghanistan.