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Wednesday, 10 May 2000
Page: 16248

Dr Theophanous asked the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, upon notice, on 12 April 2000:

(1) Is he able to say whether Amnesty International, the Refugee Council of Australia, the International Commission of Jurists and other organisations have condemned the Government's policy of mandatory detention of refugee claimants who arrive in Australia without visas for its unfairness and the suffering it creates.

(2) Is he also able to say whether Amnesty International has described the policy as not permitted under international human rights commitments, that it denies human rights to asylum seekers and that those rights are guaranteed for all Australians, including convicted criminals.

(3) Will the Government abolish this policy and replace it with an alternative which allows for the consideration of the individual circumstances of refugees before any decisions about detention is made.

(4) Will the Government consider an alternative submission from the Refugee Council of Australia entitled “an alternative detention model”.

Mr Ruddock (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Amnesty International, the Refugee Council of Australia, the International Commission of Jurists and other organisations have made public statements from time to time which indicate that they do not support the policy of mandatory detention for unlawful non-citizens.

(2) Amnesty International has invoked international instruments to support their view. However, advice received by the government from the Australian Government Solicitor and the Attorney-General's Department confirms that Australia's policy of mandatory detention, taken in practice, does not breach Australia's international refugee and human rights obligations.

(3) The Joint Standing Committee on Migration (JSCM) undertook a review of detention arrangements in 1994. The committee considered a number of alternatives to mandatory detention including the release of detainees into the care of community groups. The committee raised a number of doubts about the feasibility of release into the community which included:

. The ability of care and welfare groups to adequately tend released detainees in an environment where the government could not be responsible for them;

. Rejecting the notion that the cost associated with release being cheaper than the costs of maintaining detention facilities, particularly when indirect and direct costs, such as accommodation, clothing, food and other living, medical and health costs, were considered;

. The significant possibility of released detainees breaching conditions of release and absconding.

(4) Alternatives to detention were considered by the JSCM and based on doubt about feasibility (see response to Question 3) they came to the conclusion that those alternatives were unworkable. The RCOA proposal for “an alternative detention model” does not effectively address these issues.