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Wednesday, 27 June 2001
Page: 28644

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs) (10:11 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill is an integral part of a range of strategies which the government is introducing in response to recent incidents of inappropriate behaviour at immigration detention centres.

It will:

· introduce a power to strip search immigration detainees; and

· apply search powers in state and territory legislation to immigration detainees held in a state or territory prison or remand centre.

These measures were previously included in the Migration Legislation Amendment (Immigration Detainees) Bill 2001, which was introduced in this chamber on 5 April this year.

When that bill was introduced, I spoke at length about the challenges presented by the increased numbers of detainees and the changed nature of the detention population. These challenges continue.

Incidents of antisocial and violent behaviour continue to take place at immigration detention centres.

This year there have been major disturbances at the Woomera, Curtin and Port Hedland immigration reception and processing centres.

These disturbances have led to serious assaults on detention centre staff and have caused extensive damage to property.

It is regrettable that the violent actions of some detainees continue to endanger the safety of detainees, particularly families, women and children, visitors and staff in immigration detention centres.

There have also been increasing instances of detainees hiding, in their clothing or on their person, weapons or things which can be used for self-harm, to injure others or to assist in escape.

Currently, the Migration Act only permits a pat down search of a detainee.

There is no power to require a detainee to reveal the contents of their pockets or to present a piece of clothing for examination, where an officer believes that there may be a weapon concealed in that clothing.

The use of metal detectors is not always successful in revealing these weapons or things, particularly if they are small—such as razor blades; fashioned from non-metallic materials like glass, hardened plastic or wood; or secreted on the body.

Things fashioned by grinding glass for use as a cutting blade, or by shaping plastic or wood to a sharp point, can be just as dangerous and harmful as weapons or things made from metal.

The existing frisk search power in the migration act is insufficient for the purpose of providing a safe and secure environment for detainees and staff.

This has serious consequences for the department's ability to manage immigration detention in a lawful, responsible and effective way and it potentially places detainees and staff in harm's way.

The new search provisions in the bill strike a reasonable balance between preserving a detainee's dignity and privacy and providing a safe environment within the detention centres for all.

I gave a detailed outline of these new search powers when the Migration Legislation Amendment (Immigration Detainees) Bill 2001 was introduced.

I would, however, like to emphasise once again that searches of a detainee or his or her clothing will not be conducted as a matter of routine.

It is a measure of last resort, to be used only in exceptional circumstances.

In addition, a search of a detainee will not involve the removal of more items of clothing than is reasonably necessary to determine whether there is a weapon hidden on the detainee.

I would also like to highlight two new measures that have been incorporated in this bill as a result of my discussions with the shadow minister for immigration and multicultural affairs.

First, a search can now only be authorised by very senior officers in the central office of my department, namely, the secretary or a senior executive service band 3 employee such as the deputy secretary.

Second, a detainee who is to be searched will be able to nominate another person to attend the strip search.

If a detainee declines, fails or is unable to nominate an appropriate person within a reasonable time, a search will not be prevented from proceeding.

These new measures provide additional safeguards against misuse of the new powers.

I am pleased to advise that a draft protocol regarding the exercise of the new search power has been settled in conjunction with the Attorney-General.

The draft protocol will be incorporated into written directions pursuant to section 499 of the Migration Act.

It will provide operational guidelines for the power and will be binding on all officers.

The bill also puts beyond doubt the ability of state and territory authorities to search immigration detainees held in state or territory correctional facilities in accordance with relevant state and territory laws.

This will ensure that state and territory search powers can be consistently applied to all persons being held in these facilities.

In summary, the bill is an important part of the government's strategy designed to ensure that immigration detention centres are safe for all persons within them—be they detainees, visitors or staff.

While the legislative powers to manage detainees are being strengthened, great care has also been taken to build in reasonable safeguards against misuse.

I am grateful for the shadow minister's interest and suggestions regarding this bill. I look forward to his continued support in the passage of the bill.

I commend the bill to the chamber and table the explanatory memorandum and the draft protocol for the strip search of immigration detainees.

Debate (on motion by Mr Horne) adjourned.