Thursday, 14 May 2020
Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
Since 2013, the government has reduced the number of people in held detention to 1373 as at 31 March 2020. In doing so, this government has closed 17 detention facilities across Australia, saving taxpayers more than $500 million dollars.
Nonetheless, immigration detention remains a crucial component of maintaining safe communities and strong border control. Non-citizen nationals and unlawful non-citizens who present an unacceptable risk to the Australian community are subject to visa cancellation and are detained while their status is being resolved, or until they are removed from Australia. Those who are refused clearance at the border will also be subject to detention while arrangements for their return are finalised.
This government has strengthened section 501 of the Migration Act to better protect the Australian community from non-citizen nationals who commit serious crimes. These changes have allowed the government to cancel the visas of more than 4,600 individuals who have committed criminal offences in Australia.
This action has resulted in a significant increase in the number of detainees with criminal histories in our immigration detention facilities. Today, a large proportion of the detention population are unlawful non-citizens who have criminal histories.
Some of these detainees have a history of child sex offences or violent crimes, including murder and domestic violence. Others have come to immigration detention with significant histories of drug-related offences or proven links to criminal organisations, such as outlaw motorcycle gangs and other organised crime groups. Unfortunately, some of these individuals seek to continue criminal activities and associations while in detention centres.
One of the most critical challenges in managing immigration detention is the continuing incursion, distribution and use of illegal drugs and contraband items, and associated criminal activity. Officers of the Australian Border Force (ABF) cannot fully maintain the safety, security and good order of immigration detention facilities, because legislation does not support them to remove illegal or dangerous items from detention facilities.
This government will not tolerate behaviour that is illegal or behaviour that threatens the stability of immigration detention facilities, placing detainees, ABF officers, service providers and visitors at risk.
The Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 seeks to provide the legislative basis to enable ABF officers to effectively combat the incursion, distribution and use of contraband that pose a significant risk to the safety and security of the immigration detention environment.
Mobile phones and internet-capable devices present an unacceptable risk. This has been highlighted by a significant number of incidents involving the misuse of these devices in the last 12 months.
Mobile phones and internet-capable devices have been used to coordinate and facilitate escape efforts. They have been used to facilitate the movement of drugs and other contraband into detention facilities, to access child exploitation material and to organise criminal activity inside and outside immigration detention facilities.
They have also been used by detainees to intimidate and threaten the safety and welfare of staff. Staff have been filmed and photographed by detainees, with this material then transmitted to associates outside of detention facilities via social media. This is causing significant fear and stress for staff and their families.
While not introducing a blanket ban on mobile phones in detention, we are proposing to allow the minister to direct officers to seize mobile phones from certain categories of people, while providing officers with the discretion to search and seize for mobile phones in other circumstances. So people who are not using their mobile phone for criminal activities or activities that affect the health, safety and security of staff, detainees and the facility will still be able to retain their mobile phones.
There is also evidence of illegal substance use and trafficking in immigration detention facilities. This activity is at a degree that presents a serious health and safety risk to detainees, whether or not they are actively involved. This situation is also a safety risk to ABF officers and contracted service provider staff who may encounter unknown toxic substances or detainees affected by potent drugs.
The distribution and use of illegal substances within the immigration detention network includes dangerous substances such as methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and even fentanyl, a powerful opioid 50 to 100 times more concentrated than morphine. There has been a significant increase of prescription medication such as Xanax and Suboxone being found in the possession of detainees who do not hold a prescription for these medications. The misuse of prescription medications presents a serious risk to the health and safety of detainees and these items are also being used as a form of currency, which poses a risk to the order of the facilities.
The existing legislative arrangements are inadequate. It is incongruous that an agency mandated to protect Australia's community and borders from the entry of illegal substances is not sufficiently empowered to prevent the entry of illegal substances into facilities that it operates. Such a position poses a risk to the good order, and the safety and security of facilities under the agency's direct control.
The bill amends the Migration Act to enable the minister, by disallowable legislative instrument, to determine things to be prohibited things. These things will include illegal things, specifically illegal drugs, and things that might be a risk to the order of immigration detention facilities such as mobile phones, SIM cards, internet capable devices and medication taken without prescription. Further items can be added to the instrument if they are either illegal or they pose a risk to the safety and security of immigration detention facilities.
The bill makes amendments to the search and seizure provisions in the Migration Act, in order to ensure that we are able to effectively deal with such items.
The bill will also give the minister the power to issue binding written directions to officers that require them to exercise their seizure powers in relation to weapons, escape aids or prohibited things. This will allow the minister to implement a targeted, intelligence led, risk based approach to the mandatory confiscation of prohibited items of concern from detainees considered high risk and pose a threat to the safety and security of detainees.
The previous version of the bill, originally introduced in September 2017, also sought to specify a range of prohibited things via legislative instrument. In response to recommendations made by parliamentary committees, government amendments to the bill were introduced in May 2018.
The current version of the bill includes amendments that specifically address feedback from the committees to ensure the amendments do not trespass on personal rights and liberties of detainees. The proposed amendments are reasonable, necessary, proportionate, operationally achievable and the most effective way to mitigate risk and maintain the safety of all detainees and staff, and the order of facilities.
These amendments include that the legislative instrument will be disallowable; that certain medications and healthcare supplements will not be prohibited things in certain circumstances; and that detector dogs will be used to search detention facilities operated by or on behalf of the Commonwealth, and not detainees or people entering a detention facility. The bill incorporates all of these amendments.
The bill will ensure the safety of those in immigration detention facilities. It will ensure that ABF officers can carry out their responsibilities properly, minimising risks to the health, safety and security of persons in immigration detention facilities.
I commend the bill to the House.