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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11969

Mr DANBY (8:45 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, I present the committee’s report, incorporating a dissenting report, entitled Immigration detention in Australia: a new beginning—criteria for release from immigration detention, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr DANBY —I have great pleasure in presenting Immigration detention in Australia: a new beginning, the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration inquiry into immigration detention in Australia. I must begin by thanking the deputy chair, the honourable member for Hughes, and all the members of the committee, for their participation in our inquiry, and also the committee’s staff, who have provided us with their usual highly professional assistance in the conduct of the inquiry and the preparation of this report.

In addition to the extensive program of hearings, the committee met with current and former detainees and visited detention centres, residential housing units and community detention housing in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Darwin and even Christmas Island, with its equivalent of the Goulburn Supermax—a great waste of $400 million of Australian taxpayers’ money and completely uninhabited.

At the time of the committee’s visits, there were nationals of 97 countries in detention in Australia, the majority from the PRC. There were 249 people in Villawood, representing just over half the nationwide detention population of 488. Between the committee’s visit and the time of writing, the number detained nationwide fell to 279. Minister Evans’s announcements in July of this year signalled a paradigm shift in Australia’s policy. The presumption of detention that defined the policy of the previous government has shifted to an assumption of release following minimum checks. The onus will be on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to demonstrate that detention is necessary.

The first two terms of reference for the committee’s inquiry concerned the criteria for release from detention and the length of detention. The committee decided that it was appropriate to report separately, and as a priority we have published Immigration detention in Australia: a new beginning, the first of three reports.

The committee’s inquiries revealed a very unsatisfactory state of affairs which had developed under the administration of the previous government. We heard evidence that people who posed no risk to the community were being held in detention without just cause. We heard concerns that the current immigration detention system is arbitrary and lacks transparency in its administration. We learned that too many people spent years in immigration detention with little hope for a resolution of their case. Despite recent changes to both policy and to administrative culture, we can and must do better.

A recurring concern about the current immigration detention system has been the indefinite nature of detention, with little scope for review and little information about the reasons or rationale for detention. This report tackles those uncertainties and sets out benchmarks, including five-day time frames for health checks; up to 90 days for the completion of security and identity checks, after which consideration must be given to release onto a bridging visa; a maximum time of 12 months detention for all except those who are demonstrated to be a significant and ongoing risk to the community; and the publication of clear guidelines regarding how the criteria of unacceptable risk and visa noncompliance are to be applied.

The committee also considered the practice of charging a person for the time spent in detention. This practice was considered harsh and contrary to the stated value that immigration detention is not punitive. The committee agreed that all debts should be waived immediately. I note that the minister is currently reviewing this policy, and hope that the committee’s recommendations will be taken into account.

Any discussion of immigration detention policy in Australia raises the legacy of past approaches, past failings, and past shame. As the committee heard in evidence, there are many individuals in Australia and elsewhere around the world who continue to struggle to rebuild their lives and recover from their experience in immigration detention in Australia.

The committee also looked at people who voluntarily depart Australia and the role that Department of Immigration and Citizenship plays in facilitating their arrangements. The committee recommended an extensive involvement of external professionals in these deportations. Hopefully, this report will not just be a new beginning for people held in detention but for Australian society and the way we treat those who come to our shores either legally or illegally.

Today we had the outrageous claim that there is a surge of refugees coming to Australia in contrast to the humanity evinced by this government and this report. I have never heard such rubbish. I spoke to Mr Cook in Indonesia from the International Organisation of Migration and he authorised me to say in this parliament that there was no such surge. He has been misquoted by the shadow minister for immigration and it is a disgraceful hysteria being used by the shadow minister on an important issue for the ethos of the Australian people. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—The time allocated for statements on this report has expired. Does the member for Melbourne Ports wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?