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Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Page: 143


Senator BARTLETT (6:57 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This document is the latest in a long line of reports from the Commonwealth Ombudsman into people who have been in immigration detention for prolonged periods of time. It may be recalled that as a result of a culmination of pressure from a range of quarters, including some pressure from within the Liberal Party, amendments were made to the Migration Act following a government commitment to require the Ombudsman to report into all cases of long-term immigration detention in Australia, for that to be tabled in the Senate and for the government’s or the minister’s response to that report to also be tabled.

The focus and the public frenzy surrounding all of the circumstances that led to that being put in the act now seem like quite a long time ago. The disgrace over the detention of Cornelia Rau—it was so long ago I had almost forgotten the name—and the deportation of the Australian citizen, Vivian Solon, were not just isolated incidents. It is important to note on each occasion when these further reports keep coming through that the ongoing harm being done to people by unnecessary long-term indefinite immigration detention still continues in Australia. It is certainly reduced, and I acknowledge that and welcome that, but it has not ended.

This report contains another 12 cases. Some of them relate to people who are now out in the community and who have visas, but they are still worth noting for the details they reveal about the impacts on those people. For example, it took a 38-year-old man who is a citizen of Iran over five years to have his refugee claim recognised and to get a protection visa. For five years he was in immigration detention, both in Curtin and Baxter immigration detention facilities, and at this stage he is still only on a temporary visa, despite arriving in this country back in June 2000. The report indicates that, despite now having been out in the community for more than 12 months, he was still suffering from major depression and post traumatic stress disorder—nearly 12 months after his release from immigration detention.

The impacts of what Australia has done to these people are still present in our community today. We as a community are still paying the price, both socially and economically. And, of course, the individuals themselves are paying the price. There are other cases in the report. Some of them are still ongoing. Many of the people spent not just one year in detention but two years, 2½ years and three years. There was one who spent close to five years in detention. All have different circumstances, and it is not a case of all of them necessarily having valid refugee claims. In a couple of cases, the people identified in these reports have subsequently been returned to their home country. The issue is whether or not it is necessary and justified on each of these occasions to lock people up for prolonged periods of time—for years at a time.

My view remains that unless there is a very clear indication of a health risk or a security risk to the community, or a very credible flight risk, there is no justification for detaining people for prolonged periods of time. It is extremely expensive. It is extremely damaging and harmful to the individual. It clearly generates long-term health consequences for those people which can actually make it harder for them to be removed. Australia now has a number of people in that situation, where they are so damaged by their detention experience that the easiest option has become to provide them with a visa and keep them in the community, having to then spend a lot of energy, time and money trying to repair the damage done to them.

This report is worth noting because it highlights that this problem has not been eliminated. It has diminished but it is still present. There is continuing documentation of the completely unnecessary harm being done to so many people and it is a continuing reminder that, whilst these reports bear witness, they do not solve the problem. The only thing that will solve the problem is reforming the Migration Act to remove the disgrace and travesty of mandatory detention which allows people to be locked up indefinitely on the basis of decisions made by unaccountable government officials. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.