Senate debates

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Immigration Detention

4:13 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education (Senator Cash) to a question without notice asked by Senator McKim today relating to asylum seekers.

What I have revealed in the Senate today is a system inside Australia's onshore immigration detention network that is deliberately designed to dehumanise and to avoid accountability for the people that are running this system. I have here a complaint of sexual assault that's been made by a detainee against a Serco staff member. I simply asked the minister if she could confirm whether this matter had been referred to the police. What we got from the minister was the standard: 'Nothing to see here. We don't comment on individual cases.' Well, Minister Cash, I'm not asking you to comment on individual cases. I'm asking you: has this complaint been referred to the police? That's an entirely reasonable question.

When you read these documents, some of the problems inside Australia's immigration detention centre become clear. My understanding—and I put this to the minister today and, I might add, she hasn't rejected it—is that the Serco officers do not wear any identifying materials at all. No number, no name. How are you supposed to make a complaint against someone when you can't actually identify them?

When you read this witness statement that corroborates the allegation of sexual abuse, what you see is this witness saying, and I quote from the statement, 'I observed the tall, white, bulky Serco officer.' That's the best he could do: the tall, white, bulky Serco officer. Then, later in the statement he said, 'I observed the Caucasian and the bearded ERT officers being very aggressive towards the complainant.'

So we have a real problem here. Detainees in our onshore immigration network actually cannot properly identify officers against whom they wish to make complaints. We also, as I understand it, have a situation where, in fact, detainees in our onshore immigration detention network cannot make their complaints to the government. They can only make them to Serco, the contractor that the government has arranged to run these detention networks. That's not good enough. These people are in the government's duty of care. It is the minister who is responsible for these people. It is the minister who is responsible for ensuring they are treated in accordance with the convention against torture, to which Australia is a signatory. We have a human rights framework in this country for a reason, and the minister oughtn't simply ignore his responsibilities under that framework. We hear an awful lot about the horrors of offshore detention, but what is becoming increasingly clear is that there are horrors in Australia's onshore detention regime.

I have provided copies of these documents to the whips, so I seek leave to table the complaint of sexual assault and the corroborating witness statement.

Leave granted.

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President Williams. I can assure members that the horrors of Manus Island and Nauru are very well known, and they have, quite rightly, dominated a lot of the public debate and a lot of the conversations in our community. The community is reacting in horror to what is happening on Manus Island and Nauru, where we have children swallowing razor blades and where we have children in catatonic states, and this government is fighting tooth and nail in our legal system to keep them away from the medical treatment they so desperately need. We know the systemic child abuse that goes on in Nauru. We know that the men on Manus Island had drinking water, food, electricity and medication cut off on Mr Dutton's orders late last year.

But now we are seeing, rolling out slowly into the public consciousness, an awareness of the horrors of our onshore immigration detention system. I want to explain one case very quickly in the short time left to me. There is a stateless man that has been nine years in our onshore detention network. For goodness sake, senators! The overwhelming majority of rapists in this country don't get sentenced to nine years imprisonment! It's unconscionable that he's still there. We need to clean up our onshore immigration detention centres.

Question agreed to.