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Wednesday, 2 September 2020
Page: 6357

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (13:21): [by video link] The Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 is a renewed attempt by the government to amend the Migration Act to allow the minister to prohibit or ban almost any item from use within an immigration detention facility, including the alternative forms of detention facilities such as hotels like the Preston Mantra and the Kangaroo Point hotel. I cannot, at least in my initial review or analysis, understand this bill. What I mean by that is that I really can't fathom the government's rationale or reasoning, because prohibited items are already illegal under state, territory and Commonwealth laws, particularly drugs, child exploitation material or weapons, as they present an obvious risk to detainees and to staff. They should be prohibited.

Labor and I oppose this bill, in summary, for a couple of reasons: there is no justification for this bill and its sweeping powers, and it is also a bill which has clear impingements upon the human rights of detainees. So what is the reason, if not the reasoning, for the government to put this bill up again? Let me just go through some of these reasons why we oppose this bill. The first is that it is, I can only assume, another power grab by Minister Tudge and Minister Dutton. This is deja vu—another power grab from the Minister for Home Affairs, because the government already has broad powers under the Migration Act and has already utterly failed to make the case as to why illegal activities in detention centres cannot be handled on a case-by-case basis through those existing state, territory and Commonwealth laws. Again, this bill is deja vu. It's been here before, and it's been opposed before. It grants the Minister for Home Affairs more significant unchecked powers, giving the minister the ability to prohibit or ban almost any item from use within an immigration detention facility. Of course, we are concerned that the minister and the government have not established or even elaborated on how existing laws and common-law powers are insufficient in addressing those issues.

The bill also undermines Australia's commitment to human rights, fair and just legal processes, and natural justice. No matter who you are, you deserve to be treated fairly and you deserve to be treated with dignity, because this is Australia and people in immigration detention are people—people who are under our protection, who we are responsible for. Forty-two per cent of the total immigration detention cohort has been in detention for over a year. Almost 26 per cent of the total cohort has been in detention for over two years.

This bill would allow removal of phones, SIM cards and almost any other item. As we've heard, mobile phones generally provide a positive benefit to detainees and their welfare. I know this because I'm in contact, and have been in contact, with detainees at some of these facilities, on the phone—I've spoken to them. If those people had had to go without their phones, it would have been extremely difficult to get their story heard, to be able to express themselves and to be in touch with family, friends and legal teams, as we've heard. The phones are a lifeline to people in detention. Due to COVID restrictions, people held in detention have not had any visits from family, from friends or from their lawyers since 20 March. Imagine being in a stage 4 lockdown, as we are here in Victoria, without your phone, with no way to communicate with your loved ones—no social media, no Zoom. As much as we all complain about being 'Zoomed out', it's a necessary technological function that allows us to communicate.

Mobile phones have become the primary means of contact for detainees. Importantly, they allow detainees access to their lawyers, who can protect their legal rights. The current legal frameworks permit the confiscation of a mobile phone from a detainee if there is reasonable cause. This is as is should be. However, this bill, with a blanket ban on phones, threatens rights to privacy and freedom of expression. The bill also proposes to permit strip searches of individuals living in immigration detention, regardless of whether a suspicion has been formed that the individual is concealing a prohibited item. This is simply unjust. It's simply unacceptable. The government simply have not made a case as to why these broad, sweeping powers are required—except, I suspect, for the one reason they won't actually articulate or admit, and that's for a power grab, another grab at more unchecked power for the Minister for Home Affairs.

In lockdown here in Victoria with COVID-19, and across Australia, we have all experienced this. The government continues its default position of inhumane treatment of people in these facilities. Cramped conditions in detention centres, like the Mantra hotel in Preston, just outside my electorate, represent a very high-risk environment for coronavirus to be transmitted. Social distancing is effectively impossible, and I've heard this directly from the individuals in those centres. I've spoken to them. They're terrified of contracting the virus. A reasonable approach would be to organise the release of detainees who have been cleared through security checks and have friends or family who could support them. Many people in immigration detention are in administrative detention. They have committed no crime. If they were released under those conditions, it would protect their mental and physical health and would assist in the nationwide efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Where is the government's plan to protect people in immigration detention facilities from COVID-19? This is another failure, like the many we've seen in the Immigration portfolio and in the Home Affairs portfolio.

This bill is just the latest in a long line of failures, trying it on with another pathetic dog whistle, which this bill basically is. I've seen the former Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Minister Tudge, tweet recently, and I'll quote him:

Labor's failures on immigration and border protection are well known, but their latest move to block legislation—

the legislation we are talking about—

that will keep Australians safe from paedophiles, violent extremists and other serious criminals is gobsmacking.

Really, Minister? 'Gobsmacking'? He talks about saving us from paedophiles and criminals, but this minister clearly does not know the law. As I have said and as many speakers have said—and it bears repeating, and hopefully the minister is listening or watching—prohibited items are already illegal under state, territory and Commonwealth laws, particularly drugs, child exploitation material or weapons, as they present an obvious risk to detainees and to staff. So why don't the minister and the government focus on their jobs? In fact, what is gobsmacking, what is utterly shocking, is their repeated failure on the substantive work necessary in this portfolio.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Vasta ): The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.