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Wednesday, 2 September 2020
Page: 6352

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (12:59): I continue my remarks on the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 from where I left off the other night. I was making the point that the measures in this bill are not limited to the worst of the section 501 visa cancellations but that they apply to all persons in detention, including asylum seekers and visa overstayers, most of whom have not committed any serious criminal offences and who present no threat to Australian society whatsoever. They apply to people like the family from Biloela—a Sri Lankan mother, father and two young children—who have been kept on Christmas Island for the past year, at a cost to the taxpayer of millions of dollars, after having been for six or seven years good members of the Australian community where they lived and whose only crime is that they want to stay in Australia. Whether they should be allowed to stay in Australia is not the issue—there are legal processes in place that would determine that—but keeping them isolated on Christmas Island and reopening the detention facility solely for that family is neither reasonable, necessary nor proportionate to the risk they pose. It's an abuse of authority by the minister and a good example of why the minister should not be granted additional, unaccountable powers.

The minister and detention facility operators already have search and seizure powers to deal with the examples of contraband and illegal products used by the government to justify this legislation. Most of the things that the government wants to ban or confiscate are already illegal—the minister has actually used that term—and, as such, would be covered by existing state or federal laws. So it is clear that this legislation is primarily about targeting phones, which officers currently cannot confiscate and which some detainees allegedly use for illegal purposes and criminal activities. If phones are being used for criminal activity, I believe that authorities would already have the ability to confiscate them. Notwithstanding whether that is the case, I have no objection to ensuring that that particular ability is made absolutely clear. However, we know that there are very different cohorts of people being held in detention facilities and, once legislated, the rules about confiscation of items will apply to all detainees, who will be subjected to the discretion of the minister, administrators and staff of detention facilities. That in itself is unsatisfactory. Staff and officers of these centres are effectively being given greater authority than that of trained and sworn police officers.

Secondly, those who have had items, including phones, confiscated will inevitably persuade or force other, vulnerable detainees who have not had their items confiscated to hand over or share the items they need. So, in reality, other detainees will be put at risk unless they are kept separate from the high-risk detainees. I don't know whether that is going to be the case or not, but it is a serious concern because, if they are put under pressure by those who have had their phones and other items taken away from them, it will mean not only that their own safety cannot be secured but that they may in turn be forced to do things which will be detrimental to their applications to stay here.

Thirdly, for many asylum seekers their phone has become their only connection with their family, lawyers and others. The rate of mental trauma in detention facilities is already at a shameful level. There have been numerous reports over the years that have confirmed that that is the case. The reason for detaining these people is very different to that for detaining criminals. Confiscating their phones would be disastrous. In today's society, mobile phones are no longer a luxury. I can't imagine any adult wandering around this country who doesn't have a mobile phone. It has become literally a necessity of life, and it is equally so for detainees, particularly for those who have very little connection in this country but who have made some kind of effort to come here. Whether they are being held because they are an asylum seeker or for another reason, their only intent is that they want to stay in this country. For them it would be a very harsh penalty to take away the one item that keeps them connected with the outside world, particularly given that they have not been handed a criminal conviction. This legislation, to me, seems more about silencing people in detention facilities and preventing them from communicating with the outside world. One of the reasons they obviously do that is to expose the very atrocious conditions that they are sometimes subjected to. That is why I speak in support of Labor's amendments to this bill.

In concluding my remarks, I make this point: the Morrison government's oversight of the immigration system in Australia has been appalling. People are now waiting years to have their citizenship applications processed, and there is still a backlog of applications in the system—a backlog of tens of thousands of people. Around 180,000 people are waiting to have their partner visas processed, with an average processing time of around 28 months. That is over two years. At the commencement of this year, over 66½ thousand cases were before the immigration and refugee division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Just how long it will take to get through those cases is anyone's guess. As at 31 March, over 281,000 people were on bridging visas, awaiting their substantive visa applications to be processed. In addition to all of those backlogs, there are now thousands of Australian citizens stranded overseas who simply cannot get back home. None of these people are criminals or undesirables, but law-abiding citizens or applicants who are being treated shamefully by a country that claims the motto of 'a fair go'. This legislation is simply another example of the Morrison government's contemptible treatment of people who are simply seeking a better life for themselves and their families, like so many other migrants to Australia have done before them.