Wednesday, 13 May 2015
Migration Amendment (Maintaining the Good Order of Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2015; Second Reading
So Australia is a nation, apart from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, based on refugees. Whether it be the Makassans, the Chinese, the Dutch, the French or the English, we have that history of people coming from around the world and settling in Australia. We have had big waves, obviously, after World War II and then other waves of refugees, particularly the Vietnamese. I think about 5,000 came on boats, and then a significant number came through refugee processing plants in settlement locations in Hong Kong and arrived by planes. Then we had a surge of maritime arrivals under Labor. It is a figure that those opposite will hammer on about, but the majority of those that arrived, like under the Howard government, were found to be people who meet the definition of refugees.
So we can harden our hearts. We do as politicians—or I have had to harden my heart in terms of the approach. Obviously, if you have the people who arrive being determined by the people smugglers rather than United Nations high commission employees making considered decisions about what the world's worst hellhole is, that is not a good set of circumstances. That is why my views on immigration changed particularly after being involved in the Christmas Island tragedy, where I had to see the footage of the refugees on the boat drowning. I realised we needed to do something rather than just having the status quo. On the recommendations of the Houston inquiry the Australian government changed its view, and we returned to offshore processing. It is not a perfect system, and obviously we need a set of circumstances where refugees are not being kicked to death, where refugees are being treated humanely, where refugees are being treated with respect rather than unfairly as a warning to other refugees. I know this of my circumstances: irrespective of the rules of the globe, if my children were in dire straits, if my children were being harmed, I would do anything, like any parent, to take my children to a better set of circumstances.
So this legislation before the chamber needs to be considered in light of the fact that the Commonwealth will always owe a non-delegable duty of care to immigration detainees. The Federal Court found this, and we need to make sure the Commonwealth always takes reasonable care of detainees because they cannot care for themselves, that there is medical care reasonably designed to meet their healthcare needs, including psychiatric care because obviously there is great stress associated with incarceration. The member for Canning said 'those sitting behind the razor wire', and it can be like that. I have friends in my electorate now, voters in my electorate now who had sat for four or five years behind razor wire. I know it was tough on them. They are now taxpaying Australians making a contribution, but it was a tough time for them.
Then we also need to remember that, irrespective of whether the Commonwealth contracts out its care or services to other companies, we are still obliged to see that care is taken via the contracts and the supervision of the contract and that there is still a requisite level of care provided by people with reasonable caring skill. This bill before the chamber gives authorised officers very wide powers. It provides that an authorised officer may use such reasonable force against any person or thing as the authorised officer reasonably believes is necessary to protect the life, health or safety of any person in an immigration detention facility.
We need to make sure there is a clear definition of reasonable force. This bill does not make a definition of reasonable force. The authorised officer is able to subjectively determine what the reasonable force might be. You might think that is okay but, like any good democracy, we need to look at the checks and balances because—whilst there are some circumstances in the legislation—we need to closely monitor what that reasonable force might be. What was the assessment that said reasonable force was necessary? I know that in the United States we have seen problems with police officers in circumstances where it would appear they have used their weapons unnecessarily, or used what they considered to be reasonable force in an unreasonable set of circumstances. Sworn officers of the AFP and our state police services are different to untrained law-enforcement officers. That might be the case in some of these facilities. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, when they looked at this, said that there are risks with empowering an authorised officer to use force against detainees in a way that may be incompatible with the prohibition on degrading treatment; they have already flagged some concerns. That is why the Labor Party, when looking at this legislation, have said we will keep our powder dry and look at what the Senate puts forward in a more detailed inquiry.
We will see what the Senate puts forward; basically, we will reserve our judgement and see what comes back from the Senate inquiry. I always have concerns when there are not checks and balances in the use of such power in immigration facilities. I might leave it there.