Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 December 2014


Australian Human Rights Commission

4:10 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

( I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The Australian Human Rights Commission report No. 80 on an inquiry into the complaint of KA, KB, KC and KD v the Commonwealth of Australia is an extremely important report. It relates to four Aboriginal men who have a cognitive impairment and who have been held in indeterminate custody. This issue is extremely important. We saw recently the very sad case of Roseanne Fulton, who had a cognitive impairment and had been held in detention in Western Australia for a significant period of time before she was transferred to the Northern Territory. We have just seen on the news how that is still resulting in interactions with the law, and there is insufficient accommodation.

This report does not relate to Roseanne; it relates to four other men, who have now complained to the Australian Human Rights Commission. I should note that at the time this report was tabled there was also a report tabled by the Attorney-General for Australia, Senator George Brandis, who, unfortunately, in tabling that report, is basically washing his hands of this matter, saying that it is not a Commonwealth responsibility. Those are not the thoughts of the Human Rights Commission, who go through very detailed consideration of the circumstances of these men and find that, as a result of this inquiry:

… there has been a failure by the Commonwealth to take measures to work with the Northern Territory to provide accommodation and other support services, other than accommodation in a maximum security prison, for people with intellectual disabilities who are unfit to plead to criminal charges.

In other words, people who have a cognitive impairment and are not fit to plead should not be held in prison, because they have not been found guilty of any crime. This report is saying that the Commonwealth has failed to take measures to work with the Northern Territory to ensure that accommodation has been provided. The report makes some recommendations around the individuals in terms of what the Commonwealth and the Territory should be doing. The report states that the Commonwealth should:

… provide a copy of the Commission’s findings to the Northern Territory and seek assurances from the Northern Territory that it will take immediate steps to identify alternative accommodation arrangements for each of the complainants so that Mr KA and Mr KD are no longer detained in a prison and Mr KB and Mr KC are progressively moved out of held detention.

This is really clear that alternative accommodation needs to be found. It is outrageous that the Commonwealth government is washing its hands of any responsibility. This has been the Commonwealth's response every time we have asked them to start paying attention to and working on the issues around Australia, because this is not just occurring in the Northern Territory; it is occurring in all states. People with cognitive impairments who have interactions with the justice system are put in prison indeterminately. That is simply not acceptable. It is quite plainly breaching our international obligations under a number of conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Commonwealth government simply cannot wash its hands of this issue. The people of Australia expect the Commonwealth to take responsibility for all its citizens and not brush this off by saying that it is the responsibility of the Northern Territory.

It is about time that the Commonwealth took responsibility for this issue and worked not just with the Northern Territory—although that is obviously the most immediate issue that needs to be dealt with, so that these four Aboriginal men are no longer held in detention—but also with the other states to ensure that there is other accommodation available for people who have a cognitive impairment so that they are not held in detention for an indeterminate period. There is a case in Western Australia, for example, where people have been held in detention for over 10 years without charge. That is simply not good enough. It is a clear breach of our international obligations.

This report needs to be reconsidered by the government. They need to very quickly take on board these issues. It is unacceptable that they wash their hands of this, that this is the way they treat very well thought through reports on these four gentlemen. They need to reconsider this report and ensure they take action so that people are no longer held in detention for indeterminate periods of time simply because they have a cognitive impairment and are unfit to plead. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.