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Wednesday, 13 June 2007
Page: 152

Senator BARTLETT (6:52 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This is a response from the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship to the report tabled today by the Commonwealth Ombudsman. I will speak to that report next. The report from the Ombudsman details the circumstances surrounding a number of people who were in immigration detention in Australia for prolonged periods of time—for over a year, in the majority of the cases for over two years and, for quite a few of them, for longer than that. The minister’s response simply details the minister’s response to the recommendations in the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s report. The first thing I would note is that there are 62 cases in the Ombudsman’s report. This report is the latest in quite a long line of reports—hundreds of cases would have been detailed in the range of reports by the Ombudsman.

The requirement for investigations to be done and reports to be written about people in long-term immigration detention was announced by the government in the middle of 2005 following significant public pressure over many years and further pressure from within the government from a number of coalition backbenchers. The report enables the Ombudsman to provide recommendations, but there is no obligation on the minister to act on those recommendations. It is worth noting that, of the 62 cases that the minister responded to—all of whom were effectively in jail for a year, two years, three years and more, many of them suffering sufficient mental health damage to end up in mental health institutions for a period of their detention—47 of them ended up getting visas. So, at the end of the process of considerations, re-examinations and appeals, the vast majority get visas, having spent the entire intervening period locked up at enormous public cost. As the Ombudsman’s report makes clear, very significant harm is done in some cases, with pretty much permanent damage to people’s health. It leads me to once again ask the question: what sort of absurd system do we have?

We can see from this example from the minister’s response that 47 out of the 62 ended up with visas and only eight returned home. Seven others are pending and I would suspect, from looking through them, that a number of those will end up with residency visas as well. It says to me that it is a completely wrongheaded policy that is delivering completely absurd results. It is costing the taxpayer a fortune and it is causing significant harm to a number of people who, as our own system demonstrates, at the end of it all have a valid claim for refugee or other humanitarian protection. Why are we traumatising these people? Why are we causing them so much damage? Why is this continuing, at such taxpayer expense, when it is not necessary? We should draw a clear lesson from this.

The other point I would make is that in a few of the cases where the Ombudsman has made recommendations—and the Ombudsman’s recommendations, in most cases, were provided back in April—the minister’s response, two months later, was to say, ‘A submission for this client is currently being prepared for my consideration,’ or, ‘We are currently assessing ministerial intervention requests.’ That was two months after reports came down about people who had already been locked up without charge for years. To say two months later, ‘Yeah, we’re still putting together a submission on this,’ is not good enough. To me, it does not show sufficient urgency in respect of people who have had their freedom removed although they have committed no crime nor been subjected to any charge. It makes me repeat the pledge on behalf of the Democrats to continue to campaign for the removal of mandatory detention, which is a cruel, unnecessary and expensive policy. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.