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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5213

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (4:00 PM) —I rise to speak today on the motion to take note of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration’s third report into immigration detention, Immigration detention in Australia: facilities, services and transparency . Can I say that the Greens are extremely disappointed that the majority report of the committee does not appropriately address, in our view, the major concerns outlined throughout the inquiry process; nor does it put forward adequate recommendations for change. I have in fact put in a dissenting report because of my major concerns with the committee’s majority report.

First and foremost, the issues of transparency and the provision of suitable and sufficient services cannot effectively be dealt with without questioning the appropriateness of the privatisation of detention services. A lot of the issues and concerns that were raised throughout the inquiry process come back to the ultimate issue of our detention facilities being run by private companies. Given that the majority of individuals and organisations that provided evidence to the committee highlighted concerns about the privatisation of detention services, the fact that the committee’s report fails to reflect on this with an actual recommendation is disappointing and clearly contravenes moves towards a more transparent and accountable immigration detention system.

The Rudd government’s recent announcement that it has signed new five-year contracts for immigration detention services with GSL and Serco is disappointing and strikingly at odds with its pre-election promises. The fact that there will be two different operators for detention centres, residential housing and transit accommodation also raises concern over how the private operators will communicate with one another and the department to ensure that transparency and quality of care are maintained. It is going to be very difficult, I believe, to have a successful transition between the immigration detention centres, the residential housing facilities and the transit accommodation. It is hard to believe that this, as well as the need to coordinate with the department, will result in good-quality care, when we know already that just dealing with one private operator and the department causes problems from time to time.

In the course of the inquiry we heard numerous concerns about using external, for-profit contractors to provide immigration detention services, particularly given that there have been many instances, according to A Just Australia, one of the witnesses, where arguments regarding responsibility for service delivery between the department and service delivery contractors have resulted in unacceptable living conditions for detained people. If the arguments already happen between one private operator and the department, I hate to think what will happen when negotiations are held between two separate private operators and the department. The fact is that both GSL and Serco have backgrounds in providing prison services. The Greens do not believe that this is an appropriate way to provide a service to those vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers who are currently found in detention centres. Outsourcing is not an appropriate way of handling their claims and providing care for those vulnerable people who seek our assistance and protection, particularly when some of the detention facilities are so far removed and remote from mainland Australia.

It is for this reason that the Greens have put forward two main recommendations on how we believe the immigration detention system can be made more transparent and accountable. Firstly, we have argued in our dissenting report that the government should return all immigration detention services to public control. Let me remind you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that that was a promise of the Labor Party before the election. Obviously, with the signing of the two new five-year contracts, that election promise has been broken. We believe that detention services need to be returned to public control, opening up a direct line of responsibility between the department, the minister and the immigration processes and services that occur in these detention facilities. Secondly, acknowledging that that election promise has been broken and that the government has just negotiated new five-year contracts, we believe that, at a minimum, the contracts must emphasise the need to put welfare outcomes ahead of security and compliance. We must ensure that the welfare concerns of vulnerable people, those people seeking asylum and our protection, are put ahead of security and compliance. We must ensure that no private operator with only a prison services background is awarded the contract in the future.

The Greens are also concerned that the report fails to include appropriate and detailed recommendations regarding infrastructure, the security features of immigration residential housing and immigration transit accommodation, and healthcare services. Concerns were continually raised throughout the 12-month inquiry relating specifically to the inappropriateness of housing children in residential housing facilities and the overuse of immigration transit accommodation. Various other concerns were raised, which Senator McEwen alluded to in her response to the report, about healthcare services. These have not, in the view of the Greens, been dealt with in the majority report.

With regard to Christmas Island, most notably, the committee heard evidence from many witnesses criticising the current excision policy, particularly due to the remoteness of the location, which undoubtedly limits access to sufficient healthcare facilities and resources for both island residents and detainees, and access to torture and trauma counselling. These are basic services that should be available at any facility that is housing asylum seekers and refugees, and yet there is no access to them at the remote location of Christmas Island. The committee heard overwhelming evidence from refugee advocates, lawyers and individuals calling for the need for drastic upgrading of the facilities on Christmas Island to at least bring them up to a standard comparable with that required of detention centres on the mainland. I acknowledge the recommendations relating to those issues in the majority report.

Concerns were also raised around the lack of community oversight that is available when dealing with excised territories. The directors of A Just Australia argued that with no community oversight or media scrutiny ‘there is the opportunity for extremely inhumane treatment of people’ when there is a lack of transparency in the operation of these services.

Despite our recognition for infrastructure change on Christmas Island the Greens believe that, due to the extraordinary level of security at the North West Point detention centre and the inappropriateness of detaining people there, the facility should be closed immediately. That is a long-held view of the Greens and one that we continue to hold. The white elephant, as it has been described by the chair of the committee, is not an appropriate place to hold vulnerable people seeking asylum protection and refuge.

As with our previous two reports to this inquiry we continue to remain concerned about holding children in secure forms of detention. Even under the definition of ‘immigration detention’ within the Migration Act it is clear that children theoretically should not be detained in any form of secure detention. We are committed to the principle that no minor be detained in any detention centre, or facility with similar conditions to detention centres, under any circumstances. This concern was raised time and time again in relation to the residential housing facilities where, just because it was not technically named a detention centre, the idea of monitored movement, guards, security, not being able to leave the front door and being surrounded by fences means it is not an appropriate place to be housing children. Concerns were also raised about housing children in those spaces with adults who are perhaps suffering from mental health conditions because of their long-term detention. There are many reasons why we should not be housing children in any form of detention, and that includes transit detention centres as well as residential housing facilities. To ensure that the welfare of children is paramount in any immigration detention policy we have recommended that a Commonwealth Commissioner for Children be established to, among other things, specifically oversee the treatment of children in immigration detention. In establishing such a commissioner the rights of the child would be appropriately protected and the treatment of children adequately scrutinised.

While I acknowledge, as I did in the previous two reports, the work the immigration minister, Senator Evans, is doing to work towards a more humane and compassionate system of immigration, the Greens believe we still have a long way to go. We must not be detaining people in remote locations such as Christmas Island where they do not have access to facilities and where it is out of sight, out of mind. It is not a place to be holding vulnerable people. (Time expired)