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Monday, 1 August 2022
Page: 258

Mr WILKIE (Clark) (10:04): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Ending Indefinite and Arbitrary Immigration Detention Bill 2022 abolishes unlawful mandatory detention of asylum seekers and refugees. It provides that community alternatives to immigration detention will always be preferred to detention wherever possible. It ensures that those in alternatives to immigration detention have full access to housing, financial support, the right to work, education, health care and other government services as required under international law. Moreover, it contains specific conditions on how and why a person can be detained, and it disallows long-term and arbitrary detention by setting limited time frames to ensure that an individual's detention period is as short as possible. In other words, the bill removes the abhorrent and torturous conditions that detainees currently experience by ensuring their access to information and services. Importantly, under this bill, every decision is subject to independent oversight and prompt review and, unlike Australia's current immigration detention policy, this bill complies with international law.

This is the second time I have sought to progress this bill in the House. In fact, during the previous parliament, I tried unsuccessfully, but I was pleased to see that it was referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Migration. I suggest it is very significant that that committee received well over 400 submissions from members of the community and from groups, and the overwhelming majority of the submissions were strongly supportive of the bill, including submissions from UNHCR, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Amnesty, Rural Australians for Refugees, Grandmothers for Refugees and hundreds of other concerned individual Australians.

This bill is needed, and frankly it's needed urgently, because we face the bizarre and outrageous situation in this country where someone, in some circumstances, can be detained indefinitely, without charge and without having been found guilty of anything. In particular, if someone is a citizen of another country but can't be returned to that other country, they can effectively be kept in prison in Australia until the day they die. It's that straightforward, and it is abhorrent. I hardly need to explain why that is abhorrent, but I will. Clearly this arrangement in Australia is immoral. It is immoral to deny someone their liberty—to keep them in cruel conditions in what is really a punitive arrangement. It's as simple as that. It's also clearly at odds with international law. In fact in the Rome Statute, it is a crime against humanity to detain someone indefinitely. Not only is it in the Australian statutes that someone can be kept in an immoral manner, but we are basically showing a terrible indifference and arrogance to international law by having this in our books in the first place.

I think many Australians think that the issue of boat people, asylum seekers, people being held in detention has come and gone, and that there aren't any or many people being held in detention, but I would remind the community through you, Mr Speaker, that as of 31 March 2022 there were 1,512 people held in immigration detention facilities in Australia. I'll say that again: as of March 2022, 1,512 people were held in immigration detention facilities in Australia. There were a further 563 people living in community detention and 10,993 people, so-called illegal maritime arrivals, living in the community after being granted bridging visas. Moreover, there are still 200 asylum seekers in offshore detention, which is effectively imprisonment. Even though, at face value, the people on, say, Nauru are free to go about their lives in that tiny country, it's such a tiny island it's effectively a gulag—no better than the gulags on the Thames a couple of hundred years ago. The average time for people to be held in detention facilities is 700 days. In fact there are some who have been held in offshore detention for over nine years. This is a very real and pressing issue in this country.

Not only is it immoral to be holding people in these circumstances, not only is it inconsistent with international law to be keeping people in these circumstances, it's just breathtaking the scale of this. We're not talking a couple of dozen people; we're talking many thousands of people. And not only is it illegal and immoral, it's also downright expensive. Mr Speaker, did you know it costs approximately $362,000 per year to hold someone in immigration detention? And an eye-watering $460,000 to keep a person in hotel detention. In contrast, it only costs about $4,500 for a refugee or an asylum seeker to live in the community on a bridging visa.

When you add it all up, offshore detention costs approximately $1 billion per year—indeed, the federal government has spent close to $10 billion on offshore processing since July 2013. Case study: the cost of keeping the Tamil family on Christmas Island before they were mercifully returned to Biloela was more than $7 million. There is no way in the world this sort of expenditure can be defended, especially when there are alternatives to this.

There are clearly alternatives to this, and I would remind honourable members that I have twice unsuccessfully moved the Refugee Protection Bill, which would have enabled the establishment of a network of centres located in and run by Asia-Pacific countries, including Australia, where asylum seekers can go to be registered, have their immediate humanitarian needs met and where they can lodge a preference for a country of resettlement. And if those people select Australia, and if it's within our specified quota, then my bill establishes a process for assessing their claim in Australia with appropriate oversight, limited time frames and judicial review. My point is: there are alternatives to the way we do business. We just need to open our eyes and our minds, and to stop this pig-headed response by both the government and the opposition, who want to look tough on so-called border security when, in fact, we should be looking compassionately at a humanitarian challenge.

I will now invite the member for North Sydney, who is seconding the bill, to offer a few comments in my remaining two minutes.