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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4161

Mr DANBY (9:00 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, I present the committee’s report, incorporating a dissenting report, additional comments and a minority report, entitled Immigration detention in Australia: community based alternatives to detention, together with the minutes of the proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr DANBY —In presenting this second report of the committee into immigration detention in Australia I note that a majority of the committee are extremely pleased that the government has already taken steps to respond to the committee’s recommendations in its first report on immigration detention, which was tabled in December. Recommendation 18 of that report recommended that the government introduce legislation to waive all detention charges and debt. The government responded swiftly to that recommendation by introducing the Migration Amendment (Abolishing Detention Debt) Bill 2009 in the Senate on 18 March.

The report we are considering now was completed before the Treasurer delivered the budget speech on 12 May, which decided to vote in favour of $14 million for the assisted voluntary return program, which encourages and facilitates those found not to meet the criteria for entry to Australia to return home. There is also more money for programs to assist those granted asylum to adjust. The committee acknowledges that this is one of many welcome changes to government policy on immigration detention; however, despite the changes to both policy and administrative culture in recent times, we must do better.

The committee has, therefore, chosen to focus this report on the conditions and material support for release into the community, including appropriate options for community based alternatives to secure detention. The report recognises that secure detention will continue to play an important role in our immigration system. It forms an integral part of our robust immigration system. However, co-located, open residential accommodation in the community can provide people with a safe environment whilst still being accessible to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and other service providers. Community based alternatives can also be much more cost-effective than the current high levels of physical security or on-site staffing required within immigration detention centres.

The committee’s first report explored the potential damage of long-term detention on people. The harsh psychological burden inflicted by long and indefinite periods of detention, as well as restrictions on income, work and health care for community based bridging visa holders, is known to have harmful effects on those involved. The report supports people who lawfully come to Australia, as well as those who have fled their native land seeking asylum, invests in case management and actively seeks an expected immigration outcome. That is why the committee has recommended that the Australian government reform the bridging visa framework to comprehensively support those released into the community, with appropriate reporting or surety requirements.

The committee recommends that the government utilise the reformed bridging visa framework in lieu of community detention until a person’s immigration status is resolved and review the cases of those currently on residence determinations. The committee has also recommended that there be improved transparency in immigration decision making, improved access to legal advice and improved access to voluntary return counselling to help individuals decide what is going to be the best and most realistic outcome for them and their families.

The committee recognises that there are basic rights, such as access to appropriate health care and housing, which should be afforded to all people regardless of their immigration status. The committee recommends that the Australian government, where needed, provide basic income assistance that is means tested, access to necessary health care, assistance in sourcing appropriate temporary accommodation and community orientation information. In addition, it recommends that children be provided with safe and appropriate accommodation with their parents or guardians and basic necessities such as adequate food and primary and secondary schooling. Lastly, the committee is concerned that our reliance on the private rental market as an alternative to immigration detention facilities is inadequate and inefficient and is recommending that the Australian government have access to a stock of community based immigration housing.

I would like to express my appreciation to the hardworking members of the committee. I also note that, despite considerable effort to achieve consensus, a number of minority reports have been generated. Of particular note is the extraordinary diversity of opinion displayed by members of the opposition. The member for Murray, having supported the committee’s endorsement of Labor’s detention policy in December 2008, has now for reasons of political expediency, I would judge, refused to endorse this report and has written her own report. The other members of the opposition have, however, failed to follow the opposition spokesperson on immigration.

The deputy chair of the committee, the member for Hughes, has endorsed the report, and I thank her for that. The member for Kooyong has gone in another direction, tabling his own dissenting report, which I am sure he will speak about, that is poles apart from that of the shadow minister. Senator Fierravanti-Wells joined the committee late and failed to endorse the committee’s report or four dissenting reports. There were four opposition members and there are four positions! This report provides recommendations forming part of a framework which will maintain Australia’s border security while ensuring unauthorised arrivals and other immigrants are treated humanely.