DOCUMENTS – Response to Ombudsman’s Statements made under section 486O of the Migration Act 1958

Senator BARTLETT (Queensland) (6.53 p.m.)—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This report is the latest in a long line of reports from the Immigration Ombudsman and responses from the immigration minister. It is the first response from the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship under the new Labor government, Senator Chris Evans, whom I congratulate in being appointed to that extremely important role.

Senators would recall that the relevant section of the Migration Act, section 486O, was put in place a couple of years ago following a fair bit of agitation from a number of backbenchers in the then government, most notably from the member for Kooyong, Mr Georgiou. Section 486O required the Ombudsman to investigate the long-term detention of every person who was in immigration detention for over a year. I remind the Senate and the community that people in immigration detention have not been charged, let alone convicted, with any offence. It is so-called administrative detention which leads to people being jailed, at least in these cases, for a year or more.

The minister’s response relates to 154 assessments made by the Commonwealth Immigration Ombudsman, and I note and welcome the remarks of the new minister expressing his serious concern that so many detention cases have taken so long to resolve. It is over two years since this section was put in the Migration Act and it was meant to assuage community concerns about the large number of people who were in administrative detention—jailed in effect—for years and years without charge or accusation of any wrongdoing. The clear impression given at the time was that the government would investigate all the existing cases and try to minimise, in the future, the likelihood of people being in immigration detention for prolonged periods of time.

But, as the minister’s response notes, 12 of the individuals referred to in the Ombudsman’s statement remain in immigration detention and he also notes that an additional 61 people currently in immigration detention have been detained for longer than two years. It is important to continue to draw attention to the fact, detailed throughout these reports—and this is just the latest in a long line—that outrageously prolonged jailing of people who have been charged with no crime, nor convicted or even accused of any breach of the law, continues to this day and is continuing now. There are 61 people detained in immigration detention for two years or more and they are not all asylum seekers, I should add, as there are a range of reasons why people end up in immigration detention.

The key issues and concerns of the community which were so strong and led to that widely publicised backbench revolt have dissipated since that time, I believe in part because people assume that the problem no longer exists. The problem still exists. I welcome the fact that the new minister has specifically in his response indicated his serious concern that many of these cases have taken so long to resolve and that there are such a large number of people. Nobody should be jailed without charge or trial for years at a time—that is simply an abomination—yet we have 61 people who have been in administrative immigration detention for two years or more.

I welcome the minister’s indication of his desire to try and resolve these cases quickly and that is a positive move. It is a different type of comment to that attached to statements in the past from previous ministers. I note with most cases detailed here that the people who were investigated, who had been locked up for prolonged periods and who had got out, were given permanent protection visas—meaning they were refugees all along. So they suffered that enormous amount of unnecessary trauma of long-term detention, and great taxpayer expense, yet ended up being given visas at the end of it all anyway. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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