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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4689


Mr MORRISON (Cook) (10:14): I rise to speak to the report which has been tabled. This report was principally about the riots that took place just over a year ago. In March 2011, Australia's immigration detention network descended into chaos. There were riots, there were fires, there was violence, there were mass break-outs and there were attacks on detainees, Commonwealth officers, Australian staff and Federal Police, first at Christmas Island and just a few weeks later at Villawood. Australians watched in disbelief as Federal Police were forced to retake a Commonwealth facility in the middle of the night by force. The nation was rightly appalled. The coalition has demanded answers in this parliament. It was the coalition who moved that a parliamentary inquiry be established into what happened and, more broadly, the issues within the detention network. When this was first put forward, the government dismissed this as a stunt; they only later recanted and were forced to support the inquiry after the coalition gained the support of members of this parliament in the House and in the Senate.

The rolling crisis that overwhelmed our immigration detention network was the product not of a mandatory detention policy but of a simple failure of a border protection policy that resulted in too many people turning up on too many boats. What these events demonstrated is that you cannot run an effective immigration detention network under a mandatory detention policy if you are not going to support a strong border protection policy regime at the same time, as was practised by the Howard government.

The Hawke-Williams review found that these incidents were not entirely unpredictable. There had been numerous reports and events that indicated that a major event was brewing. Critical amongst these was the draft received from Knowledge Consulting by DIAC in May 2010, which was briefed to the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Evans, and also to the department secretary. That report said:

… it is likely that a serious incident will occur in the next six months and highly likely during the next twelve months … North West Point Immigration Detention Centre is overcrowded and understaffed … staff and client safety is compromised … client mental well being is at risk … the potential to escalate into a serious incident or incidents … far too many clients accommodated in NWP for the current capacity of the infrastructure … Lilac Compound in a High Risk category … hunger strikes and self harming, riots, burning and trashing of infrastructure, mass escapes, serious injuries to IMA's and staff' …

All of this was in the report received by the minister in May 2010. It is not surprising, then, that when the detention population had risen to 6½ thousand IMAs in detention, up from just four when the coalition left office, and serious incidents were occurring at a rate of one every 5½ hours in the first quarter of 2011, as opposed to one per month at the end of 2009, the Hawke-Williams review found that significant overcrowding, an increase in the length of detention time and 'the increasing proportion of detainees on negative pathways' all contributed to the situation that presented itself.

But, as our inquiry found in the report submitted by coalition members, these events and these forces did not occur spontaneously. They were a result of the government's decision to abolish the proven border protection regime inherited from the Howard government; the refusal of Senator Evans as Minister for Immigration and Citizenship to take action on that draft report he received in May 2010 either to restore the policies that worked, to abolish the discriminatory asylum freeze that had put the system under even further pressure or to take steps to further expand the detention network to cope with the rising rates of failure of the government's policies; the inability of Minister Bowen to adequately reduce the population as a result of the lack of expansion in the network when it was needed; the failure of Minister Bowen to comprehensively respond to clear warnings of escalating tensions, including security weaknesses identified in physical infrastructure; the failure to ensure that clear joint operational procedures for key agencies working with DIAC were in place; the failure to resolve the ambiguity of roles and responsibilities, particularly in relation to state and federal police; and the failure to send DIAC back to the table with Serco to renegotiate the contract to ensure that the arrangements that were in place were able to deal with the rising level of failures.

This is a serious report, and I want to commend the chair on the way he handled this inquiry. I particularly commend Tim Watling and his staff at the committee secretariat. The findings in here, as outlined by the coalition and as found in the Hawke-Williams review, sound a very clear warning to this government: if you do not restore proven border protection policies, you can expect further chaos. Last night 175 people turned up on the biggest boat to turn up since February 2010. There are as many people in the detention network today as there were when they set fire to the immigration detention facilities in March 2011.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The time allotted for statements on this report has expired. Does the honourable member for Banks wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a later occasion?