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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4688


Mr MELHAM (Banks) (10:09): On behalf of the Joint Select Committee on Australia's Immigration Detention Network, I present the committee's final report, incorporating a dissenting report and additional comments.

At the time that the report was tabled out of session on 30 March I made a statement, and I think it is appropriate for most of that statement to be put on the parliamentary record.

Australia has for many years, and under consecutive governments, struggled with the challenge posed by irregular maritime arrivals. The sobering facts outlined in this report speak for themselves. This inquiry unfolded in a highly contested political scene, and it is no secret that the report had little chance of ever being unanimous. However, I am proud of the process and the manner in which we as a committee conducted the inquiry.

The committee received over 3,500 submissions and conducted 11 public hearings and site visits. These included visits to various detention facilities at Christmas Island, Darwin, Derby, Villawood, Adelaide, Weipa and Melbourne. The committee has made a total of 31 recommendations for the government to consider. These vary from straightforward procedural matters for the department and its contractors through to recommendations for the existing network, children in detention and processing of protection claims and security assessments, together with the implementation of the Hawke-Williams recommendations.

The committee's fundamental conclusion is that asylum seekers should reside in held detention for as little time as is practicable. Evidence overwhelmingly indicates that prolonged detention exacts a heavy toll on people and, most particularly, on their mental health and wellbeing. One study by the Physicians for Human Rights found clinically significant symptoms of depression were present in 86 per cent of detainees, anxiety in 77 per cent and post-traumatic stress disorder in 50 per cent.

The committee applauds the substantial efforts already underway to reduce the number of people in held detention. To date, over 3,700 people have either been placed in community detention or placed on bridging visas. A number of the recommendations are grounded in the desire to build on the successes of the community detention and bridging visa programs, or to point to other means to minimise time spent in detention. To this end, the committee recommends that all reasonable steps are taken to limit detention to 90 days. Where people are held any longer the reasons for their prolonged detention should be made public.

As a committee we grappled with the vexed issue of security assessments. The current system does not allow refugees to access the existing avenues for a merits review of adverse decisions. This results in practically indefinite detention for detainees with adverse assessments. It is necessary to provide procedural fairness in a system where a person's liberty is at stake, while being mindful of the need to keep security sources and procedures confidential. The committee believes the current system does not strike an appropriate balance.

Accordingly, the committee has recommended that the ASIO legislation be amended to allow the Security Appeals Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to review ASIO security assessments of asylum seekers and refugees. In my forward to the report, at page xii, I had the following to say:

… the Committee grappled with the question of security assessments, and the fact that the current system bars refugees from accessing existing avenues for a merits review of adverse decisions, resulting in practically indefinite detention for detainees with adverse assessments. While it is necessary to be mindful of the need to keep security sources and procedures confidential, the overwhelming imperative to provide procedural fairness in the system cannot be ignored where a person's liberty is at stake. The Committee believes the current system does not strike an appropriate balance. Accordingly, the Committee has recommended that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) legislation be amended to allow the Security Appeals Division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to review ASIO security assessments of asylum seekers and refugees.

The Committee has recommended implementing further safeguards in the security assessment process, including periodic internal reviews of adverse ASIO assessments, and the exploration of whether control orders (currently used in the criminal justice system) could allow for the release from held detention of those refugees and asylum seekers who are in indefinite detention or cannot be repatriated.

I make the point publicly that I do not believe we can say that there is not one person in the whole of Australia who can adequately reassess security assessments delivered by ASIO and still have no threat to security. Of course we can; we just need to get on and do it. I actually think that having a system like that protects ASIO. It does not detract from ASIO. There is a saying, 'who guards the guard while the guard guards you'—it is applicable. I also want to say that given the enormous human and financial cost of held detention as well, the committee has reached the fundamental conclusion that less harmful and far more cost-effective alternatives are available and should be pursued.

I want to thank the members of the opposition; they supported 16 recommendations without condition and another three of the 31 recommendations with some modifications. I want to thank the secretariat, who were exceptional in the conduct of the inquiry, and other members of the committee—I think the cooperation that was extended on the committee did the parliament proud. And I want to thank Senator Hanson-Young, who is the deputy chair.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.