Wednesday, 13 May 2015
Migration Amendment (Maintaining the Good Order of Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2015; Second Reading
I welcome this chance to speak on the Migration Amendment (Maintaining the Good Order of Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2015, because I remember back in 2011 receiving many emails relating to riots and wilful damage to the detention centres on Christmas Island and also at Villawood in Sydney. Following those incidents, the previous government implemented an independent review that reported on 31 August 2011. Then, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship reported on the implementation of the recommendations in September 2012. Since that time, it has been determined that there is cause enough for specific legislative action, and that is why we are here today for this debate.
I will go into the specifics later, but I would say that the riots and the damage done offended many of my constituents. Obviously, taxpayers are unhappy when they can see their tax dollars going up in smoke on the nightly news, and so I am not surprised there was such a reaction to the events in 2011. The excuse for this lawlessness, from the advocates and those who committed these crimes, was allegedly frustration. Those responsible were not the victims; it was the taxpayers who were the victims in this, and I have no sympathy for those who bypassed the system to arrive here illegally. As we know from any look at the UNHCR website, there are offices and representatives around the world. The UNHCR can assess the validity of a person's claim to be a refugee and acknowledge them as such. Then that person can be provided with some support and wait for the chance to be resettled. I have spoken about that being the experience of many refugees that I know, and that is the way the system works. It is an effective system that enables a fair means of processing people based on need.
Of course, since the previous government changed the policy in 2008, thousands of boats and many thousands of people have chosen not to use that UNHCR system. Instead, they have raised the money to bypass that effective and fair system, by buying airlines tickets to Indonesia, travelling to people smugglers and again paying them to get a place on a boat. That boat then sets out to Australia, rejoicing in being 'intercepted' by the Australian Navy, before being detained and processed. That was the way it was between 2008 and the change of government in 2013. While that false and broken system was taking place, the refugee intake in Australia became all about cash and resources, not about the needs of the most desperate in refugee camps.
In 2011, there were many people that had paid to come to Australia by airline and then boat. Some were being detained on Christmas Island and at Villawood. Obviously, they had expected to be released into the community and were frustrated because they had been led to believe that would happen. Although they were detained, the conditions were infinitely better than in the refugee camps that those people chose to bypass because of their strong financial situation. It was, however, true that due to the policy approach by the then federal government, the numbers coming by boat continued to increase, and this led to overcrowding on Christmas Island and elsewhere.
I do reiterate that when you look at the density of the huts at refugee camps such as Mae La and Umpiem Mai on the Burma/Thailand border—these two are high density places—in those camps the differences are stark compared to immigration detention in Australia. Receiving your rations once a month in Mae La in the form of a bag of rice and other supplements is far more difficult than attending the detention centre mess tent at each mealtime to receive a meal already cooked for you. I would also say that the health centres in immigration detention centres actually have mattresses, rather than a piece of wood to lie on, as they do in the refugee camps I have been to and seen. The point that I am making, of course, is that conditions in Australian detention centres at Villawood or on Christmas Island are infinitely better than in a refugee camp elsewhere in the world.
That being said, I would imagine that if a person was led to believe that—through their outlay of some $12,000 per person in the form of a one-way airline ticket through Dubai, Doha or elsewhere to Indonesia, and then their fee to people smugglers—they would be quickly living in Australia, then they would feel aggrieved and even frustrated if they spent some time in immigration detention. I do, however, have no sympathy for them. They would have known that what they were doing was not official, and was therefore wrong. I think that, in spite of the overcrowding, the conditions were far better than for those who remained in refugee camps, who they, therefore, disadvantaged by their actions. I reserve my sympathy for the men, women and children that I have seen living in more desperate conditions in the refugee camps at Mae La and Umpiem Mai in Thailand.
For all those refugee advocates, human rights commissioners and others who wish to end immigration detention and again welcome those coming by boat, I suggest that they reassess their priorities with a trip to the real world of refugee camps. In that world, people do not have the money to go and buy an airline ticket, check out the duty-free options in Dubai and pay people smugglers. It is the people stuck in refugee camps that deserve our sympathy.
Obviously the boats have been stopped now and we do not have many of the types of problems that existed in 2011. Nevertheless, we need to address the problem of how agencies and contractors cope with incidents of disorder and criminality while protecting people and the property of the taxpayer.
I will turn now to the detail that is provided in this legislation. It is the case that, to provide the means to protect the life, health and safety of any person inside an immigration detention facility and to maintain order in the facility, this bill will allow an authorised person to use reasonable force to achieve this. The powers will apply in mainland Australia and on Christmas Island. The only persons who can be so authorised are those who have completed the training and qualification requirements as determined in writing by the minister. The need to use force is important because there is a wide range of persons that are held in the onshore immigration detention centres, and that can include known or alleged criminals capable of or suspected to be capable of violent acts. Such a capacity poses a threat to the staff and other persons in detention. The need is clear. This bill is therefore about providing a safe and effective system of immigration detention in order to provide those working in our detention facilities with the ability to protect the life, health or safety of any person and to maintain the good order, peace or security within an immigration facility.
In many ways I was surprised to learn that, without this bill, staff of detention centres would be able to rely only on the common law to exercise reasonable force to defend themselves or to protect others from harm. That is quite a limitation. In such an important area of national administration, leaving things up to common law is not right. Specific legislative controls and determination is far more appropriate. There is no doubt that staff members will be faced with the threat of harm to themselves and to detainees and with the chance of self-harm as well. As the events of 2011 demonstrated, there is also the risk of escape and damage to or destruction of Commonwealth property. These powers are also required to facilitate the movement of detainees and to maintain good order in a detention facility, including where there may be other persons visiting or inside the facility.
The bill, however, does bring with it preclusions from reasonable force, such as barring the ability to give nourishment, causing greater indignity than is necessary or causing grievous bodily harm, unless it is necessary to protect the life of another person or to protect another person from serious injury. There will also be a statutory complaints mechanism allowing complaints about the exercise of force. That may be to the secretary, but also it may be to the police or the ombudsman.
In conclusion, I look upon this bill as the means to ensure that all those organisations or agencies have the tools to provide good order in an immigration detention facility, as well as knowing who is responsible and when a threat requires the intervention of the police. This bill provides clarity and good lines of demarcation.
I look upon immigration detention as an important part of an effective and fair immigration system. It will be better when the numbers to be detained have returned to the situation where small facilities are required in the capitals for the handful of people who have overstayed visas or are being deported for criminal reasons and that is all. I think we will get back to that in the future. We will get back to those circumstances because this coalition government has sent a very clear message that our humanitarian intake is for those who apply offshore. That message is being received and that is why the boats have stopped. It remains a great shame that the so-called refugee advocates, most of the opposition, I suspect, and even a Human Rights Commissioner want to restore a system where using the cash you have to fly to Indonesia and then get on a boat is the criteria for being accepted here. It is outrageous and a disgrace that the needs of those in refugee camps was put behind those with cash.
For those who remain in immigration detention, it is through such a bill that good order and safety will be maintained. I think Australians have had enough of their tax dollars being thrown away through riots, disorder and damage caused by people who should have come the right way. This bill will help stop these problems in the future, and I absolutely endorse it.