Monday, 22 February 2021
Ending Indefinite and Arbitrary Immigration Detention Bill 2021; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Ending Indefinite and Arbitrary Immigration Detention Bill 2021 would abolish unlawful mandatory detention of asylum seekers, refugees and noncitizens and would have the effect of ending offshore detention. It provides that community alternatives to immigration detention will always be preferred to detention, wherever possible. The bill ensures that those in alternatives to immigration detention have full access to housing and financial support and have the right to work and to access education, health care and other government services, as required under international law.
The bill includes specific conditions on how and why a person can be detained. It disallows long-term and arbitrary detention by setting limited time frames to ensure that an individual's detention period is as short as possible. The bill removes the abhorrent and torturous conditions that detainees currently experience, by ensuring access to information and services. Importantly, every decision under this bill is subject to independent oversight and prompt review. I acknowledge at this early stage that the bill has been prepared with the wonderful assistance of the lawyers at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, in Melbourne.
This bill is urgently needed, because the indefinite and arbitrary immigration detention regime in this country is immoral and illegal. It is immoral in that we have a moral obligation to give people protection, to hear their claims and to give them refuge if their claims are accurate. It is illegal because it's in contravention of numerous international agreements—for example, the Refugee Convention; the Refugee Protocol; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and, of course, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It is beyond doubt that Australia's regime of indefinite and arbitrary immigration detection is immoral and illegal, and this bill would remedy that.
The scale of Australia's official misconduct remains alarming. I think a lot of members of the community might think that the issue is one of the past, but let's not forget that, as at the end of last year, there were 1,513 people in immigration detention facilities, including 1,276 in immigration detention on the mainland and 237 people in immigration detention on Christmas Island. There are also 137 people effectively in detention on Nauru and another 145 people effectively in detention on Manus Island and PNG. The cost of all this is absolutely breathtaking. It costs approximately $346,000 to hold someone in immigration detention in Australia for one year. I will say that again: it costs approximately $346,000 per year to hold someone in immigration detention in Australia. But I will also tell the House that it costs only about $10,221 for a refugee or an asylum seeker to live in the community. In fact, the budget for our offshore detention is still running at about $1 billion per year. I'll say that again: the bill for offshore detention is still running in the order of $1,000 million per year. These figures are breathtaking and almost unbelievable.
To highlight this point, I would refer members of this House to the case of the Tamil family who were taken from regional Queensland and the town of Biloela and put into detention, initially in Melbourne. They've been in detention more than 1,000 days. They were moved to Christmas Island in August 2019, where the family remains in legal limbo. The cost of detention for the Biloela family is now estimated to have reached $6 million. This is just absurd. You couldn't make this stuff up. Surely, even if the government doesn't care about people, at least they care about the budget bottom line and will stop throwing good money after bad with the cost of detention. It must end.
It must end, and this country must be put on a more effective pathway to dealing with the global humanitarian crisis that is displaced people. The problem hasn't gone away, and it's not going to go away any time soon. In fact, the UNHCR's latest figures are that there were 79.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2019. That's one per cent of the world's population. Of that near on 80 million displaced people, about 40 per cent are children. This country needs an effective response to that humanitarian crisis. These people aren't a border security problem. People coming by boat aren't illegals. But this is a global humanitarian crisis, and one of the first steps in Australia responding effectively, morally and legally to that global humanitarian challenge is to end indefinite and arbitrary immigration detention. Only then will we fall into line with the community of nations and finally be seen as a humane and law-abiding country.
I commend the bill to the House. I do note that the current policy of mandatory detention has bipartisan support, but I would reach out to both sides of the chamber to look anew at your policy. I would say to the alternative government: when you go to the next election, if you want to be an alternative government, you need an alternative policy. A good alternative policy would be to end mandatory detention, end offshore processing and end boat towbacks, and start acting with a bit of moral fibre and in accordance with international law.
Deputy Speaker, I now invite the member for Warringah, who will second this bill, to offer a few additional comments.
I second the motion. I thank the member for Clark for introducing the Ending Indefinite and Arbitrary Immigration Detention Bill 2021, and I wholeheartedly welcome this opportunity to speak on this very important topic. We need to end indefinite and arbitrary detention of asylum seekers and refugees. As lawmakers in this place, it should be galling to all of us that this policy is, in fact, illegal under international law. So I strongly support both the end to the practice of indefinite detention and the Game Over campaign led by Craig Foster.
Over December and January we saw the release of 65 of the medevac refugees from hotel immigration detention, including two women; however, 120 medevac refugees, including eight women, remain in detention in Australian hotels. There are still around 230 refugees detained on Nauru and in PNG, and they have been there for more than seven years. It's impossible to fully comprehend that. Think back to where you were more than seven years ago, and think about how you would be coping with the idea that your life has been indefinitely in limbo—that there is no real avenue, that there is no change, that there is no movement—and you are stuck with no opportunity to live a life, to have a hope of being safe or being part of a community.
This bill puts an end to indefinite detention by imposing a maximum term that immigration detainees can be held without a court order, so it's an important safeguard for people coming to Australia searching for safety for them and their families. The Biloela family were embraced by their community, only to be torn away and thrown into indefinite detention on Christmas Island at huge costs. I call on the government to implement this legislation to end this torturous program and complete waste of money of indefinite detention immediately.