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Tuesday, 22 October 2002
Page: 5641

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (6:57 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

The report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission on visits to immigration detention facilities by the Human Rights Commissioner is a worthwhile document. It is an issue that has had a lot of focus, and it has been one of the issues that many people and groups in Australia have expressed concerns about. I think it is particularly appropriate that a comprehensive investigation into immigration detention facilities by an independent person such as the Human Rights Commissioner is noted and the content treated seriously. It is outside the realm of political parties. It is an independent commissioner who is tasked by this parliament and by this government to ensure that basic human rights standards are upheld by our government agencies for all people in Australia.

It is a fairly comprehensive report. It details aspects of a range of facilities from Woomera to Maribyrnong, Curtin, Port Hedland, Perth, Villawood, Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. It is wide ranging and covers a comprehensive range of visits over the course of 2001. Some of the things I would particularly like to draw attention to are the conclusions and recommendations. Specifically, the Human Rights Commissioner of Australia recommends:

The Migration Act 1958 should be amended to impose specific time limits on detention, with provision for review of continuing detention, in accordance with international law standards.

There are two key aspects to that. Firstly, it acknowledges that our current system is not in accordance with human rights standards— something that the Democrats and others have been stating for a long time—and, secondly, it indicates quite specifically that there should be time limits on detention, which, I should remind the parliament, is in accord with the findings and recommendations of the parliament's own all party Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, which reported on this matter prior to the last election. So, in that sense, we have parliamentarians from across the political spectrum—Liberal Party, Labor Party, the Democrats and Senator Harradine—who recommended time limits in that committee report, that recommendation being backed up by the Human Rights Commissioner. Surely that should be sufficient for this government to recognise that it needs to act in relation to that.

The conclusions also note concerns about adequate access to information so that detainees can be informed properly and effectively about their legal status and rights. There is no doubt that some of the disturbances in our detention centres, not least some of the major ones at Woomera, have been in part because people who are detained there do not have adequate information about their situation. They are in total limbo in the middle of nowhere and do not know what their future holds. Those things need to be improved.

Minimum standards of conditions and treatment are noted specifically, as is the adequacy of the monitoring of minimum standards. There is a specific recommendation about children in detention, and among the range of concerns from the public this has to be one of the biggest. As the report says, `Children should only be detained for the shortest period of time for initial security, health and identity purposes.' The department has provided responses to that and, as usual, they are extremely disappointing. This report should be noted and should be emphasised. It should add to a recognition by the government that the current system is not adequate and is not working; it is incredibly expensive and damages human beings for no great purpose. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.