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Government to move children and vulnerable families into community-based accommodation

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Chris Bowen MP Minister for Immigration and Citizenship

Government to move children and vulnerable families into community-based accommodation Joint Media Release with the Prime Minister

Monday, 18 October 2010

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Bowen today announced that the Australian Government had decided to expand its existing residence determination program and will begin moving significant numbers of children and vulnerable family groups out of immigration detention facilities and into community-based accommodation.

The Prime Minister said the government would partner with community organisations to transfer unaccompanied minors and families who are awaiting the outcome of their applications for asylum into community-based accommodation.

The government today also announced the commissioning of two new detention facilities - at Northam in Western Australia and Inverbrackie in South Australia - to help relieve the current pressures on existing facilities.

The new Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, recently flagged that the government was examining the issues of children in detention as well as the longer-term needs of the detention accommodation network.

Today' announcement delivers on that commitment and recognises the importance of balancing the government's policy to mandatorily detain unauthorised arrivals with the humane treatment of those fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in our country.

This is especially important for children, for whom protracted detention can have negative impacts on their development and mental health.

To implement this expanded program, the Immigration Minister will use existing powers under the Migration Act to make ‘residence determinations‘ and place unaccompanied minors and vulnerable families in community-based accommodation.

The minister will also use his powers under the Act to place conditions - such as curfews, requirements to live at a certain address and obligations to check in regularly with authorities - on those permitted to live in the community while awaiting the outcome of their applications for asylum.

The government intends to progressively move several hundred children and families into community-based accommodation - with the assistance of community organisations - by June 2011.

The expansion of the residence determination program does not impact on the government's mandatory detention policy.

All unauthorised arrivals will continue to be mandatorily detained when they first arrive in Australia for the management of health, identity and security risks to the community. A person granted a residence determination remains in immigration detention but is accommodated in the community.

Individuals will only be granted residence determinations if they are not considered a risk to the community and are assessed as unlikely to abscond.

The minister's Council on Immigration Services and Status Resolution (CISSR) has taken a leading role in progressing this initiative and will have an important role in overseeing the implementation of the extended program in coming months.

The commissioning of two new detention facilities at Northam and Inverbrackie will help to relieve the current pressures on existing facilities.

The Northam site is situated approximately 80 kilometres north-east of Perth and will be used to accommodate up to 1500 single adult males.

The Inverbrackie facility, located near the Woodside Army Barracks, 37 kilometres north of Adelaide, will accommodate up 400 people, consisting of family groups.

The Department of Defence has confirmed that the sites are not required for Defence operational purposes, and no defence families will be moved as a result of this announcement.

As has been previously outlined, and in the context of the existing contract with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the Darwin Airport Lodge will be expanded to enable accommodation for 400.

The government has also identified contingency sites that may be developed in the future, should further capacity be required. These are the use of the 11 Mile Antenna Farm outside Darwin and the further expansion of the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation.

Today's announcement will allow for the decommissioning of less suitable temporary accommodation, such as the tents currently in use on Christmas Island.

The identification of appropriate sites followed an extensive process conducted by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) as part of standard contingency planning.

The department will continue to engage with local stakeholders in the set up and ongoing operations of these new facilities.