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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5210


Senator McEWEN (3:51 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, I present the report of the committee Immigration detention in Australia: facilities, services and transparency. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.


Senator McEWEN —I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I will at the outset indicate that I think Senators Hanson-Young and Bilyk were also wishing to speak on this report. It gives me great pleasure to stand here today on behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration to table the third and final report from the inquiry into immigration detention in Australia. Following the first report tabled in December last year, which was entitled Immigration detention in Australia: a new beginning—criteria for release from detention, and a second report tabled in early May this year entitled Immigration detention in Australia: community-based alternatives to detention, this final report focuses on the facilities, services and transparency of immigration detention in Australia. The report concludes the 15-month long inquiry into the criteria for immigration detention in our country and the alternative options available. During these 15 months the joint committee on migration has reviewed some 142 submissions, visited detention centres across the country and spoken with witnesses from all walks of life in order to gain a wide-ranging insight into Australia’s immigration detention policies. It was the aim of the committee to offer suggestions to the government to help shape the future of Australia’s immigration detention policy in a fairer, more efficient and humane way.

The first report of the committee made 18 recommendations which the committee believed would aid in improving accountability and ensuring a timely release from detention centres for detainees following health, security and identity checks. The second report had an additional 12 recommendations, which focused on upholding the safety and security of Australia’s borders while taking a humane approach to those people seeking protection in Australia. This final report comes with a further 11 recommendations. These address the preferred infrastructure options for contemporary immigration detention; the options for the provision of detention services and detention health services across the range of current detention facilities; and the options to expand the transparency and visibility of immigration detention centres.

One of the key recommendations from this report is recommendation 4, which recommends that detention in immigration residential housing should be used in lieu of detention centres should it be deemed feasible. After reviewing submissions and public hearings, the committee believes that, while secure detention will continue to play an important role in our immigration system, evidence suggests it is not necessary to keep those people who meet the criteria for release in secure detention while they await resolution of their immigration status. Placing detainees in immigration residential housing and immigration transit accommodation for the shortest time possible would complement the government’s intention to address the prompt resolution of an individual’s immigration status. This is in line with recommendations from the second report of the committee.

Additionally, the committee has serious concerns about the appearance of a number of detention centres. In fact, recommendations 1 to 3 and 5 of this report revolve around the infrastructure and aesthetics, or lack of aesthetics, of some of the detention centres. The committee had a number of concerns about some detention centres which look more like prisons: high security levels; a lack of access to fresh, clean air; limited access to outdoor exercise areas; little privacy; and, in some circumstances, very poor levels of cleanliness. The people who are seeking refuge in our country are not criminals and the majority have fled hardships and risked their lives in search of a better future. They should not be kept in prison-like environments.

Recommendation 1 of the report that the reconstruction of stage 1 at Villawood Detention Centre remains urgent and a priority of the committee would help in eradicating the prison-like appearance. The committee noted that the government has provided $186.7 million over the next five years to redevelop that detention centre. However, the committee noted that that time frame may need to be revised due to the current concerns regarding the state of the infrastructure and facilities. Similarly, the committee suggests in recommendation 2 that the proposed upgrades of the Perth detention facility commence immediately. Although the facilities in Perth are under limited lease arrangements, they are in dire need of urgent attention. The committee has agreed that the government should examine the long-term options with the intent to establish a purpose-built, long-term facility.

The intentions of most senators on this committee were to restore justice, dignity and certainty to the treatment of those people held in immigration detention in Australia. As at 17 July this year, there were 744 men and women still detained in immigration detention centres across the country and on Christmas Island. In line with restoring justice and dignity to these people, recommendations 3 and 5 are about reducing the extreme security measures currently in place. The use of razor wire or barbed wire, electrified fencing, caged walkways and perspex barriers are seen as excessive by the committee and are a disproportionate security measure. I note that the Christmas Island detention facility was built by the previous government as a high security establishment at a cost of some $400 million. The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has already taken measures to remove razor wire from all of Australia’s detention facilities except stage 1 at Villawood, which is a very welcome move.

The committee recommends in its report that it is in the best interests of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, as well as the general public, to increase the transparency of the immigration detention centres. Many media outlets are using old file footage of the immigration detention centres or using file footage of now closed detention centres for their images. Therefore, the committee has recommended that the provision of greater access to detention facilities is made available for the media. Furthermore, the committee has recommended that regularly updated information on the facilities, including statistics and detainee population, should appear on the department’s website.

Additionally, to aid in the greater transparency of our immigration detention centres, the committee has recommended that the Australian Human Rights Commission be granted a statutory right of access to all places of, and persons in, immigration detention in Australia. This will ensure that all facilities and the treatment of detainees is always as dignified and as humane as possible. That being said, the committee has suggested with recommendation 9 that the government maintain appropriate physical and mental health facilities at the Christmas Island detention centre, commensurate with the services provided at other immigration detention centres. Many of the submissions received by the committee raised concerns over the services available on Christmas Island, partially due to the geographical remoteness of the island. Some medical needs, as we know, cannot be met on the island whatsoever. Therefore, the committee has recommended the access to appropriate facilities to assist in the transparency of immigration detention in Australia.

Lastly, the remaining recommendations made by the committee are with regard to the department’s provision of services to detention centres. The committee makes several recommendations to encourage a full review of the current immigration detention service providers, to introduce mandatory and ongoing training programs for staff of the detention service providers and to make public the service standards of the immigration detention centres on the department’s website. It is hoped that with those measures the Department of Immigration and Citizenship will be able to increase the quality and effectiveness of the services that it provides to all immigrant detainees and achieve a high service standard across the board.

I conclude by thanking all of the witnesses to this inquiry, particularly the detainees themselves, their advocates and the departmental officials. I thank the committee secretariat and all of the senators and members of the joint committee who contributed to this inquiry in a very positive and meaningful way.