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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8531


Senator McGAURAN (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Evans. I refer the minister to the minister’s admission this morning that the riot at Christmas Island over the weekend was due to ‘a bit of anxiety amongst Sri Lankan detainees’ who are waiting for their asylum claims to be assessed and are concerned about their possible return to Sri Lanka. What is the minister’s response to claims that the eruption of this riot is a result of the government’s decision to hand a special deal to some Sri Lankans formerly from the Oceanic Viking?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank the senator for his question. Can I say at the outset that it was obviously a very serious incident on the weekend and we take it very seriously. We demand proper behaviour of people in detention, and when inquiries are complete we expect the AFP to lay charges, if they can, against those responsible. Certainly, that will be pursued with vigour, as will the immigration department’s inquiries.

On radio this morning, when asked what the cause of the disturbance was, I said that I was not sure and we would wait for the formal inquiries, but I did acknowledge that there had been some anxiety for some weeks now among Sri Lankan detainees, largely as a result of their concerns when we removed six men against their will to Sri Lanka a couple of weeks ago. That did cause some concern among those people that their claims for asylum might be unsuccessful. So there was a degree of anxiety in the centre as a result of those decisions and some other unfavourable decisions that went against those seeking asylum.

That was an underlying current inside the detention centre, and no doubt the interception of various boats may have added to that, but I am not sure of the exact causes. There are appropriate investigations underway, both by the department and by the AFP. I do want to make it clear that people will not be processed until they have met all the health, identity and security checks and their claim for asylum is properly processed. Those who are found to be owed our protection will be given it; those who are not will be removed.


Senator McGAURAN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the three injured detainees who were brought to mainland Australia from Christmas Island for treatment in Perth now be treated as if they originally arrived on mainland Australia and be able to access our legal system?


Senator Abetz —Good question!


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I heard some Liberal senators saying ‘good question’. Under your legislation, under the Howard government’s legislation—

Opposition senators interjecting—


Senator CHRIS EVANS —Just to be clear: the answer is no; it has always been no. Under the legislation regarding excision introduced by the Howard government, once they have landed on an offshore excised place, that is their legal status established. Bringing someone to the mainland for health care does not impact on that status. Bringing them to the mainland for other purposes does not impact on that status. I made it clear to your opposition spokesperson on a number of occasions. She does not seem to get it. Clearly, Senator, you do not seem to have got it. Under the legislation you introduced, which has been maintained by this government—the excision of offshore islands and processing of asylum seekers who are unauthorised arrivals on Christmas Island—the legal status is established by virtue of them being detained on Christmas Island. If they are brought to— (Time expired)


Senator McGAURAN —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. What steps is the government taking to ensure that this riot is not repeated and that asylum seekers who are currently waiting on Christmas Island are not harmed?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —Clearly, we are very concerned to ensure it does not occur again. As people are aware, when you have a large number of people in detention who are stressed and worried about whether their claims for asylum will be accepted, there are tensions involved. That has always been the case. I might refer the senator to the disruptions, violence and burning of buildings et cetera that occurred under the previous government’s detention regime. This is nothing new. What we had on this occasion was not an attack on the building or on the staff but a fight between groups of detainees that got out of hand. That is very concerning and, as I said, those responsible, if we can identify them, will be prosecuted after an AFP investigation. Clearly, security at the centre will be tightened to ensure we do not have an incident like this again, but this is a feature, obviously, of detention. (Time expired)