Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 May 2018


Commonwealth Ombudsman's Report; Consideration

5:30 pm

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

by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of documents nos 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

They are all related, so I will spare people me speaking separately on all six documents and just speak to them all once. These six documents are required to be provided by the Commonwealth Ombudsman under the terms of the Migration Act 1958 with regard to assessing detention arrangements for people who have been in immigration detention in Australia for prolonged periods of time.

Since coming back into this place not very long ago, I've had cause to speak to similar documents a number of times already, which in itself should be a cause of concern to the Senate, as I know it is of concern to many in the Australian population, because it reflects the fact that there are very large numbers of people who have been in immigration detention in Australia for many years. I do not have time in the now four minutes available to me to go through all of the cases here, but in these three documents there are probably close to 50 that have been assessed by the Ombudsman. Some of them have been assessed more than once. Many of them have been in imprisonment, also known as detention, for three, four, five years or longer. Many of them—or at least some of them—involve children as well. It is an ongoing indication of an inherent and innate flaw in our entire migration regime that we will leave people—who have in almost all of these cases committed no crime—jailed for years without any idea of when their detention will end.

This is a major issue. Jailing people, particularly children, is a last resort. We are jailing them for years and not giving any sign of when they might get out of that situation. It is, without doubt, a massive breach of their human rights and a massive impact on their health and wellbeing. We cannot have the nice-sounding words that we often get from all of us here in this chamber across all political persuasions about our concern for mental health et cetera when we have laws and policies enacted that knowingly and in some cases deliberately cause major mental harm to people, including young people.

I would just use one example here of a woman with five children. She has an Australian husband but has been in detention for 1,276 days, which my calculator tells me is about 3½ years, with four of her children. Her fifth child is actually an Australian citizen. The Ombudsman report notes that it appears likely the family will remain in detention for a prolonged and uncertain period whilst they receive medical treatment and further notes the government's duty of care—this is not just a nice-sounding phrase; the government's duty of care, particularly to children, is a legal obligation—to detainees and the significant risk to mental and physical health posed by a prolonged and uncertain period of detention. If you look through these reports, you will see that phrase repeated quite often—so much so that it's almost a bit of a phrase repeated by rote and, I am sure, sadly, perceived as such by the minister. But we are talking about human beings here. The fact they are identified by numbers here does not mean they are not human, and the children here in this case are children. We should not be inflicting this torment, this torture, on innocent people, particularly children, and that is what we are doing.

It gives me cause to also mention the family taken away from Biloela I have spoken about in this place before and the fabulous support they've had from the community of Biloela in Queensland, going down to Melbourne supporting them in their court case to try and prevent them being sent back to a place where they will almost certainly be at risk. They are people who have been living in, working in and contributing to the community at Biloela who were ripped away in a dawn raid by armed police. I want to say thank you to the people and community of Biloela for supporting them and I want to say the minister needs to resolve that case and get them out of detention because that is where they are now, including those very young children. Similarly, a person who is not in detention but who has the same sort of issue is a woman who has had some media publicity. Bernadette, a Filipino woman who has an Australian child at risk is in fact being pressured very hard to leave this country and to leave her Australian son, who cannot go with her because of a Family Court order, behind. End that family's torment. End that woman's torment. (Time expired)