House debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2018


Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2017; Second Reading

4:36 pm

Photo of Michael SukkarMichael Sukkar (Deakin, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) Share this | Hansard source

In summing up, I want to thank members for their contributions to the second reading debate on the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2017. This bill enables the department to provide a safe and secure environment for people accommodated in, visiting or working in immigration detention facilities. It will strengthen search and seizure powers in the Migration Act, including the use of detector dogs in order for authorised officers to restrict from immigration detention facilities things that might pose a risk. These things include, but aren't limited to, mobile phones, SIM cards, narcotic drugs and child pornography.

In 2014, the coalition government strengthened section 501 of the Migration Act to better protect the Australian community from foreign nationals who commit serious crimes. These changes have allowed us to cancel the visas of more than 3,300 foreign criminals who were putting the Australian community at risk. Since these changes were enacted, we've cancelled the visas of 60 murderers, 228 child sex offenders and 160 organised crime figures. This action has meant an increase in criminals being held in immigration detention. More than half of the detainee population consists of high-risk cohorts. These cohorts have significant criminal histories, including child sex offences, links to criminal gangs such as outlaw motorcycle gangs and other organised crime groups, or they represent an unacceptable risk to the Australian community. These criminals often have serious behavioural issues and pose a critical threat to the health, safety, security and order of our detention network.

The government won't tolerate behaviour that's illegal or that threatens the stability of detention facilities, placing our officers, visitors or detainees at risk. At the moment, the existing arrangements are inadequate to manage the increasing risk of contraband in detention, such as narcotic drugs and the use of mobile phones for the commission of criminal activity. Mobile phones in immigration detention facilities are enabling criminal behaviour in a range of ways. Examples of these include drug distribution within detention facilities, maintenance of criminal enterprise in and out of detention facilities, facilitation of threats between detainees and accessing child pornography. Owners of mobile phones are also being subjected to standover tactics, including the theft of the phone itself. Phones have also become a commodity of exchange, because currently illegal maritime arrival detainees are not themselves permitted mobile phones but all other detainees are. So mobile phones are now being used as a type of currency in these facilities.

In November 2016, the Commonwealth Ombudsman conducted an own motion investigation into the use of restricted practices within IDFs, a document which the Labor Party refers to in almost every debate relating to immigration. The investigation noted that the legislative framework that supports the good order and welfare of the detention network is not robust and relies heavily on common-law and case-law precedents to support detention operations. For example, officers have increasingly relied on the common law as the basis for taking certain action to manage risks and maintain control of immigration detention facilities—for example, searching accommodation areas within detention facilities.

The bill provides express statutory authority for authorised officers to conduct searches and seize things in order to restrict certain things from the detention environment. This includes things that could be used to facilitate criminal activity and threats of escape, organise disturbances or access child pornography.

In 2007 Labor introduced legislative amendments to the character provisions of the act to strengthen the department's ability to effectively maintain good order within immigration detention facilities and to empower staff to take the necessary action required to maintain the order of these facilities. This bill will ensure that the department's officers can carry out their responsibilities properly, minimising unacceptable risks to the health, safety and security of people in immigration detention facilities and to the order of these facilities.

I note that the shadow minister has moved a second reading amendment and note in advance that the government will not be supporting this amendment. As with many of the actions of the shadow minister, there appears to have been a lot of bluff and bluster in his contribution to the debate but little substance. This is most obviously illustrated through his second reading amendment, which failed to address any of the Labor Party's so-called concerns with the bill and instead just sought to shut down debate on this very important issue.

Under Labor, in 2013, 99 per cent of people in immigration detention were illegal maritime arrivals. This was due to Labor's border security failure, which resulted, as we all know, in 50,000 arrivals on over 800 boats and over 8,000 children put in detention.

It may not suit the shadow minister, but the coalition has cleaned up this mess. Now there are fewer than 1,300 people held in detention. In fact, the detention cohort has changed so much that now half of the detainee population consists of the high-risk cohorts which I've just spoken about. This changed nature of the detention population has seen an increase in illegal activity in immigration detention. So, to effectively manage these new risks posed to the safety of the men and women of the ABF, as well as other detainees, by this high-risk cohort, we must equip our ABF with the sufficient powers that they need. Despite the inconsistent mutterings of the shadow minister proclaiming that Labor's committed to keeping Australians safe, on one hand, the Labor Party stands in the way of providing our ABF with those important powers for this very difficult, high-risk cohort.

The government's committed to providing a safe and secure environment for people accommodated in, visiting and—most importantly—working at an immigration detention facility. We'll work constructively with the crossbench and any party—I repeat: any party—which is serious about this important work. I therefore commend this bill to the House.


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