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Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Page: 41

Senator McEWEN (4:36 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, I present the report of the committee Immigration detention in Australia: a new beginning, together with the Hansard record of proceedings and submissions received by the committee and 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.

On 29 May 2008, the Joint Standing Committee on Migration determined to inquire into immigration detention in Australia. After calling for submissions, of which 139 were received, the committee conducted seven hearings in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. The committee also visited detention facilities in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Darwin and Christmas Island. After this extensive examination of the current immigration detention system in Australia, I am pleased to be able to table the committee’s report today.

This is the first of three reports against the inquiry’s terms of reference. This report addresses the criteria that should be applied in determining how long a person should be held in immigration detention, the criteria that should be applied in determining when a person should be released from immigration detention following health and security checks, review mechanisms for ongoing detention, removal practices and detention debts. The second and third reports of this inquiry, to be tabled in 2009, will address alternatives to detention, financial costs, service provision and the infrastructure required to support the immigration detention framework for the future.

This comprehensive report makes 18 recommendations, all of which will help to inform the government and stakeholders in the forming of new legislation to be introduced next year which will give force to the change in the government’s detention policies. One of the key recommendations in the report is that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship establish time frames for various aspects of immigration, in particular to establish an expected time frame, such as five days, for the processing of health checks for unauthorised arrivals. The committee recognised that it was not practical to impose a definitive time frame on health checks but felt it important that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship had a clear directive from government and incentive to complete health checks quickly.

In another measure to reduce time in detention, the committee has recommended that, in line with a risk based approach and where a person’s identity is not conclusively established within 90 days, the Australian government develop mechanisms such as a particular class of bridging visa to enable a conditional release from detention. Conditions could include reporting requirements to ensure ongoing availability for immigration and/or security processes.

The committee spent much time hearing evidence from people who had been detained, from their advocates, from their lawyers and from the non-government organisations that support those people. The committee’s objective was to address the terrible effects of unnecessary long-term detention and to come up with recommendations to deal with that. The committee has recognised, though, that it is important to establish the identity of people coming into our country. However, we acknowledge that identity checking can be a slow and drawn-out process in some cases. The committee was very concerned that, if people had to wait for the conclusion of this process before they could be eligible for release, this criterion could potentially discriminate against asylum seekers who may have come from countries without secure identity systems or who may have had to leave their country quickly, without documents.

As we know, the Rudd government has already begun implementing changes to immigration detention based on new detention values approved by the cabinet earlier this year and announced on 29 July 2008 by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Evans. Those values are set out in detail in the report and they make a clear statement of a change in the principles underpinning immigration in this country and a change of direction by this government compared to the previous government.

While the government is still maintaining mandatory detention for those unlawful people who are not Australian citizens and who present an unacceptable risk to the community or who repeatedly refuse to comply with their visa conditions, the government’s objective is to ensure that people are moved out of the detention system as quickly as possible. Unauthorised boat arrivals will still be subject to mandatory detention for health, identity and security checks, but let me be clear that the government’s position is that we will only use detention centres as a last resort and for the shortest practicable time.

The government is committed to protecting our nation from the potential dangers posed by some unauthorised arrivals or unlawful noncitizens. We are also strongly committed to treating people with dignity. The findings in this first report of the committee into immigration detention will assist the government to achieve a balance between the protection of Australia and treating people with respect and dignity, people have come to this country seeking asylum and safe haven.