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Tangney Electorate Office, WA: transcript of doorstop: heroin seizure, detention centres.



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ATTORNEY-GENERAL THE HON. DARYL WILLIAMS AM QC MP

TRANSCRIPT

Doorstop

Tangney Electorate Office, WA

11am WST, 2 January 2003

Subject: Heroin seizure, detention centres………………………………………………e&oe

ATTORNEY:

Two things I want to mention. The Customs Officers at Melbourne Airport have found a cache of heroin, 2.5 kg of heroin hidden in a suitcase. It’s estimated that this would be worth some $3 million and would constitute about 100,000 hits. I applaud the efforts of the Customs Officers in identifying the hidden heroin. A 43-year-old South African woman has been arrested and charged.

The second thing I wanted to mention is in relation to detention centres. I’ve observed suggestions that the movement of some detainees from detention centres to State correctional facilities is unlawful. This is not the case at all. Under the Migration Act it’s perfectly lawful for an unlawful arrival to be detained in a State prison or watch-house or police station. In the case of the detainees who have been moved, this has been done for the protection of other detainees and of the staff at the detention centres. Any questions?

REPORTER:

Have there been any more charges laid against any of the detainees?

ATTORNEY:

I am not aware of any. That’s a matter you should direct your inquiries to the police about.

REPORTER:

Can they be definitely held within detention under the Act?

ATTORNEY:

They can be if, the sort of reason why they would be moved is because if, for example, they have behaved in an unacceptable or violent behaviour and constitute a threat to other people. It may be that they have served a sentence for a criminal offence and are awaiting deportation.

It may be that they have attempted to escape detention, and bear in mind that detention centres are not correctional facilities, they are not prisons and they are generally not capable of being locked down. People within detention centres are generally able to move around within compounds within them.

REPORTER:

Is the intention though with those people that have been removed to lock-ups and what-have-you, is the intention to charge them?

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ATTORNEY:

Well, I would hope that the police will be able to identify those responsible for the violent behaviour that has occurred in the last few days and that they will be charged. But that’s a matter for the police.

REPORTER:

Is it something you can do under the Act also with detainees to keep them in handcuffs for up to three hours, as was the case at Woomera yesterday?

ATTORNEY:

Well the movement of people from detention centres to other places of detention like a State correctional facility is a matter for those who are responsible. If the police are moving them the police will act in accordance with the police guidelines, if it’s being done by detention centre staff it will be done in accordance with standards that are applicable to them.

REPORTER:

So you’re not uncomfortable by the fact that these people have not been charged with any offence yet they’re being held in fairly tight custody in police lock-ups.

ATTORNEY:

The people who have been moved have been moved because they are believed to be the people responsible for the fires and other activity. Bear in mind that at two centres staff were actually attacked when they were trying to prevent disturbances or, in one case, trying to put out a fire.

REPORTER:

There are reports that there are going to be more strip searches. Do you agree with that? How’s that going to help?

ATTORNEY:

Well, strip searches were done first at Baxter, then at Woomera. I am not aware whether they are intended to be done at all centres, but it would be a decision for the management. But the strip search, strip searches conducted at Baxter resulted in the finding of cigarette lighters and matches that no doubt were previously used for lighting fires and were not voluntarily returned. Now if detainees who are in compounds where fires were lit have access to matches and cigarette lighters, I think it is entirely appropriate that whatever is necessary to remove them be done.

REPORTER:

Earlier today the New Zealand and Australian College of Psychiatrists said that there needs to be a review of the detainees and the policy, because there is a health crisis in the detention centres. What do you say to that?

ATTORNEY:

Well I think it’s all very well to make a broad generalisation like that. There may well be people who individually suffer mental health problems. They may well have come to Australia having those mental health problems before they got here. But to suggest that detention as such is the cause overlooks the fact that it is open to anybody in a detention centre who is detained because they are an unlawful arrival to cease being at a detention centre by returning to the country from which they came. It’s open to them to terminate detention at any time.

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REPORTER:

Is this putting them in a lock-up something of a warning to other possible trouble makers that there are worse things we can do to you, there are things we can do to you that will...

ATTORNEY:

The reason it’s being done is to protect other detainees and the staff at the centres. Only those who are believed to have engaged in violent behaviour are being removed in that way.

REPORTER:

Do you think genuine asylum seekers are being unfairly demonised in all this by the more hard core elements or criminals who are visa over-stayers?

ATTORNEY:

Well I think it’s wrong of refugee groups to seek to identify everybody as being a family fleeing persecution when they’re in a detention centre. This is not the case with many of them. They’re in fact visa over-stayers, they’re people who have come to Australia on a pretext of doing one thing, like studying, and then ceasing to do it. And in some cases they’re people who have come and committed criminal offences or are suspect from character or … on character or security grounds. Refugee groups I think do a disservice to the community. They’re in fact being dishonest in portraying everybody as a family fleeing persecution.

REPORTER:

Is it true that most of those behind the fires at Woomera… sorry, at Villawood and Christmas Island are actually in that category - criminal detainees?

ATTORNEY:

None of those involved at Christmas Island has a visa application on foot and none of those involved in the first compound at Villawood has a visa application on foot.

REPORTER:

So why are they being detained?

ATTORNEY:

They’re being detained for removal. The grounds upon which they’re being detained vary. At Christmas Island they were, I think, unlawful arrivals who didn’t have a valid claim for a visa. At Villawood there’s a variety of reasons, one being unlawful employment, another being character or criminal issues. One more question.

REPORTER:

Has Abu Quassey slipped the Australian net at this point in time, Minister?

ATTORNEY:

Abu Quassey is the subject of four warrants for arrest by the Australian Federal Police. The Australian Federal Police will do everything that they can in order to extradite him to Australia and charge him with the offences for which the warrants have been issued. At this stage I think the police are not proposing to give any details of what operational steps they may take in order to extradite him.

REPORTER:

Are you any closer to withdrawing any privileges for detainees?

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ATTORNEY:

That’s a matter for decision by the Department and the centre management. OK? Thanks very much.

REPORTER:

(inaudible) Do you truly believe that the warrants and the desire is enough?

ATTORNEY:

I’ll leave that to the police. I’m not in the business of speculating.

REPORTER:

The United States and Britain have decided they could impose trade sanctions and actually withhold student and business visas to make sure that those countries take the asylum seekers back. Is Australia going to go along the same path?

ATTORNEY:

Well I’m aware that some countries have put in place such arrangements or are considering them. They are not presently on the agenda here. Thanks.

[speaking to a reporter who arrived late]

ATTORNEY:

I’ve heard claims that the movement of people from detention centres into State correctional facilities is unlawful. This is quite wrong. The Migration Act provides for detainees to be detained in state correctional facilities like prisons, watch-houses and police stations. The people who are being moved are being moved because they are seen as a threat to the safety of other detainees and staff.

REPORTER:

But they haven’t been charged yet though?

ATTORNEY:

I’m not aware whether they’ve been charged. At the time of their movement they had not been.

REPORTER:

Sorry just the bit on the end there I came in about Abu. What’s the …?

ATTORNEY:

Well Mr Abu Quassey is the subject of four Australian Federal Police warrants. The police will do everything they can to extradite him to face charges in Australia. But for operational reasons the police are not going to be foreshadowing what steps they’ll be taking.

-ends-