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Thursday, 20 August 2009
Page: 8593

Mr ZAPPIA (11:14 AM) —In speaking on the Joint Standing Committee on Migration’s third report of the inquiry into detention in this country—Immigration detention in Australia: Facilities, services and transparency—can I say from the outset that I certainly acknowledge and respect the sincerity and passion that the member for Kooyong speaks with in respect of this matter. Can I also place on the record my appreciation to the chair of the committee, the member for Melbourne Ports, Mr Danby, and to you, Madam Deputy Speaker Vale, as deputy chair of the committee, for your leadership role in the work that that committee has done. The very fact that we are now presenting the third report highlights the extensive amount of work that that committee has undertaken and, in turn, the level of commitment that the committee has put into its work evidenced by the sheer fact that these three reports contain recommendations on a whole raft of measures.

I suppose it also reflects the substantial problems that were inherited by the Rudd government when it came to office with respect to the matter and manner in which we dealt with refugees in this country and in particular the manner in which we managed our detention facilities. What I am pleased to say as a member of that committee, however, is that the minister, Senator Chris Evans, has in fact responded to both the issues that the Rudd government inherited and the recommendations of all three reports. He has already put into place a number of steps, made a number of policy announcements and proposed pieces of legislation that go a long way to meeting what we the members of the committee believe would be the appropriate way of dealing with refugees in this country.

I want to talk about some of the changes that we have seen, changes that started with the announcement on 29 July by the minister of the new policy with respect to immigration in this country. Within that policy there are some seven values that the minister has adopted. We know that the Migration Amendment (Abolishing Detention Debt) Bill 2009 and the Migration Amendment (Immigration Detention Reform) Bill 2009 are currently before the parliament. But it goes further, and I want to speak specifically to some of the recommendations contained in the third report of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, bearing in mind that there were some 11 recommendations. I will not go to all of them, as I am aware that other members already have. Recommendation 1 says:

The Committee reiterates that reconstruction of Stage 1 at Villawood remains urgent and a priority of the Committee.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has committed a total of $7 million to undertake urgent interim works at Villawood: early works to improve the conditions in the high-care unit, which is the old management support unit in stage 3, and reduce the extent of razor wire and minimise the impact of palisade fences in stage 1, which have already been completed. I welcome that. Further works, including the living room and office extension to the stage 3 higher care unit, improvements to the high-security stage 1 accommodation, and realignment and a reduction of fences in stages 2 and 3 have begun and are all scheduled for completion by November 2009. These projects will improve the operation of the facility pending the completion of the longer term redevelopment. The government, in its 2009-10 budget, provided a further $186.7 million for the redevelopment of the Villawood centre. This will include the replacement of stage 1. I understand that DIAC, in conjunction with the Department of Finance and Deregulation, is actively managing the project, which is now before the Public Works Committee for their approval.

Having visited that centre, I know that is a huge commitment by the Rudd government towards upgrading those facilities. I certainly share the concern, I am sure, of all other members who did visit that facility that it was totally inappropriate—inappropriate in design; inappropriate in terms of its age; and inappropriate that it was clearly never, ever designed to be a detention centre and had been used for that purpose under obviously some urgent need but in truth was never, ever designed to be used for such a purpose.

Recommendation 2 says:

At the very least, the Committee recommends that the upgrade of the Perth immigration detention centre proceed as proposed.

The refurbishment works at the Perth Immigration Detention Centre have already been completed. The department is considering options for the replacement of the Perth Immigration Detention Centre at the end of its current lease in 2016. Again, having visited that centre, I believe that is the right thing to do. That centre, whilst it was certainly a little bit more modern than Villawood, was, in my view, totally inappropriate for the purpose for which it was being used.

Recommendation 5 says:

The Committee recommends that all razor/barbed wire fencing is removed from all immigration detention centres and replaced with more appropriate fencing.

Razor wire in all centres, except in stage 1 at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, has now been removed and replaced with more appropriate alternatives. I welcome that, as I am sure all other members do. Fifty per cent of the razor wire has been removed from stage 1 at Villawood as part of the improvements announced by Minister Evans in 2008, and stage 1 will be replaced by a purpose designed facility that does not have razor wire, as part of the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre development.

There have also been some improvements in respect of the way people are dealt with once they come to our shores as refugees. I want to quickly talk about some of the other changes that we have seen, changes which have been, as I said from the outset, driven by much of the work of this committee and simultaneously by the change in policy announced by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship on behalf of the Rudd Labor government.

When the Rudd Labor government came to office, I understand there were some 74 persons who had been in detention for two years or more. I understand that, as at 18 August 2009, only 18 people have been in detention for longer than two years. I will just break down the cases of those people who were in detention for over two years and what has happened to them. In March 2008, the minister announced his review, with the Commonwealth Ombudsman, of all 72 clients who had been in detention longer than two years. As at 18 August 2009, of the 72 cases reviewed, all but six had been resolved. Two cases have ongoing processes. Of the 49 people now on a visa pathway, 47 have already been granted permanent or temporary visas. Two are progressing with their permanent immigration checks. Of the 21 on a removal pathway, 19 have already been removed. Only the two removal clients remain in immigration detention centres, and others are in community detention or on bridging visas in the community.

I believe that that says a lot about the change in policy and the change in attitude towards the way asylum seekers are being dealt with in this country. Yes, we have a long way to go. I am sure that all members of the committee would like to have seen a lot more changes already in place. However, as someone who was part of that committee, visited most of the centres we are dealing with and personally spoke with some of the people in detention centres as well as with a number of the agencies that we heard evidence from, it is clear to me that, with all the best intentions in the world, the truth of the matter is that we are quite often dealing with very complex situations and therefore it is simplistic to say that there is a simple solution. There is not. It is our responsibility as a parliament to ensure that whatever policies are in place are the best possible under the circumstances that we are confronted with. I believe that that is what the committee is aiming for. I believe that that is what the minister is aiming for. As a member of the committee, I am pleased with the progress that we are making on this issue. Once again, I thank all of those involved in the work so far and I thank the secretariat for its support of the committee.

Debate (on motion by Mr Broadbent) adjourned.