Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2007


Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Report

7:02 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I will continue where I left off because this document and the one earlier are related and it would probably make more sense in a way for them to be dealt with together. As I was saying, the Ombudsman is able to make recommendations but there is no scope for those recommendations to be followed. The example I was just speaking to is a person with the identifier of No. 108. It took six years for them to be found to be entitled to protection, but they are still only on a temporary visa and are still suffering as a consequence of that. That is not just some bleeding-heart assessment; that is a very clear medical assessment. There are already clear medical assessments that the Ombudsman refers to in this and earlier reports about this case of very significant harm being done to this person because of their long-term detention and the things that happen to people in detention.

It is a direct consequence of Australian government policy implementing the laws that were passed by this chamber. I might say that the laws that continue to allow this to happen are still in place. We should not kid ourselves and think that all of this trauma and all of the problems from immigration detention have gone and have been resolved. There have been advances—there is no doubt about that—but the problems have not gone and have not been resolved. The law is still there, it can still happen and it is still happening. It is happening to fewer people but it is still happening, and this Ombudsman’s report is yet another reminder of that. We should not let the frequency of these reports dull us to the shameful contents.

This report deals with, I think, eight different people. They have different circumstances, different stories and different details, which are provided in the report, but the vast majority of these people—not all I would emphasise—have been in long-term detention and have suffered significant health impacts as a direct consequence. It is clear from the report that for every single one of those there has been no good reason—no adequate public policy reason, no adequate public safety reason, no security reason or any reason—why they needed to be in detention for such prolonged periods of time. In addition to that, some of these cases still detail problems with the way people are treated in detention—specific incidents in detention, specific problems with the delivery of medical services in particular in detention. That is simply not satisfactory.

I know the department of immigration have made a number of changes. I know they have accepted the need for those changes. There has been continual talk by government ministers themselves, with the previous minister, Senator Vanstone, accepting that there is a serious problem with the culture of the department and setting about changing that. I accept that those things do take time. But I also believe that, unless there is continuing pressure for change, it will halt. A new minister is the perfect opportunity to reaffirm, reapply and renew that pressure and that momentum for reform and change. It is the key task, I would suggest, of Minister Andrews, the new minister, to continue to drive and revitalise that reform process because this Ombudsman’s report makes it clear that there is still some way to go. As I said before in talking to the previous document, the minister’s response certainly raises concerns that the new minister is not going to take that approach of reinvigorating the reform process.

Finally, I want to emphasise that a number of cases here, not just the case that I have focused on the most, emphasise the problem with the temporary protection visa. People who have already been traumatised—they were traumatised before they have even got here—have had their trauma magnified a number of times over as a direct result of our laws and government policy and the implementation of them. Just giving them a temporary visa at the end of that process continues the harm—it continues the uncertainty—and does not allow the person to finally get closure to that part of their life and settle stably in the Australian community. Even if you do not care about these people, it is in our interests as Australians and as a nation to have in the community people who are stable and secure and who know they can get on with rebuilding their lives. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.