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Minister disagrees with aspects of report on detainees from Human Rights Commissioner.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

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AM

 

Wednesday 23 October 2002

 

Minister disagrees with aspects of report on detainees from Human Rights Commissioner.

 

LINDA MOTTRAM: The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Co mmissioner says that Australia is damaging the moral and human rights of asylum seekers in detention.

 

Sev Ozdowski says that the Government should set a maximum time that a person can be in detention, and that children should be detained only for the shortest time possible.

 

But the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, has rejected Mr Ozdowski's report.

 

Louise Yaxley reports.

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: The treatment of asylum seekers has in Australia has been a political battleground and bookshelves have been filled with the reports of inquiries, ranging from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mary Robinson, to Amnesty International.

 

Australia's own human rights watchdog has also been scrutinising conditions. It's preparing a major report on children in detention, likely to be scathing about the treatment of minors.

 

Sev Ozdowski was appointed two years ago by the Federal Government to head the Human Rights Commission. His criticisms tabled in parliament yesterday spring from visits to the various detention centres about a year ago. His biggest criticism is the length of time people are locked up.

 

SEV OZDOWSKI: I believe that the period which we are keeping people in is substantially too long for primary assessment of health, of their identity, of other issues which are necessary.

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: Commissioner Ozdowski is extremely concerned about the mental health of detainees.

 

SEV OZDOWSKI: I believe that our detention system needs to ensure that we manage mental fragility of refugees much better and much earlier.

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: Dr Ozdowski's other concern is that they are denied the right to have their detention reviewed by a court.

 

Given that Australia has taken away that right, do you believe that we are in breach of international obligations then?

 

SEV OZDOWSKI: Well the Commission found in the previous report that we are in breach of international obligation here. I maintain that view and I am of the view that any bureaucratic detention, prolonged bureaucratic detention, is a major threat to our civil liberties.

 

LOUISE YAXLEY: Commissioner Ozdowski says he is hopeful the Government will make big changes in the wake of his report.

 

The Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock says some changes have already been made but the sorts of alterations Dr Ozdowski wa nts won't be made.

 

PHILIP RUDDOCK: The bulk of people detained today are not unauthorised boat arrivals. They're people who are located in normal compliance operations of the department and where we would hope to get them home fairly quickly.

 

But I think the Commissioner has now expressed quite clearly that he now has a philosophical view about detention which he is pursuing and rather than looking at the broader range of human rights issues, as I think his mandate requires, he's about trying to unwind mandatory detention. And essentially that is not going to occur.

 

LINDA MOTTRAM: Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock. Louise Yaxley reporting.