DOCUMENTS – Commonwealth and Immigration Ombudsman Speech

Senator BARTLETT (Queensland) (6.59 p.m.)—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This document is rather weightier. I am not able to transmit the size of it through Hansard, but it contains about 130 or so cases investigated by the Immigration Ombudsman. These are the details of each individual case. Obviously, in five minutes I am not going to be able to go through them all. But I think that it is important to put on the record the fact that these reports continue to be tabled and the fact that there are so many people still being investigated by the Immigration Ombudsman. I do not know how many of these reports have now been tabled—I should try and find that out—but there would have been at least 10, if not more, since this part of the Migration Act was put in place. This latest one, as I said, has about 126 cases, all involving individuals who have been in immigration detention for a year or more.

The point must continue to be made that the reason this parliament put in place this section of the Migration Act was to ensure that people did not disappear into the system and to ensure that, any time anybody was in immigration detention for more than a year, their case would automatically be examined by the ombudsman, who is independent of the immigration department. But even though the ombudsman can carry out an investigation, all they can do at the end is provide an assessment and a recommendation, and that is what has happened in each of these cases. Whether to accept that recommendation or not in regard to a particular case is then up to the minister or the department.

As I was just commenting in regard to the minister’s response to these cases, the new minister has noted with concern how long it has taken to resolve many of these cases, because a number of times the ombudsman has made a recommendation that consideration be given to giving a person a particular visa and the minister’s response has been to consider that but not necessarily to act on it. When we are talking about people who have had their freedom taken away—who are in effect in jail—then it is a serious thing and there is an issue of urgency. You do not just leave someone languishing in jail, let alone somebody who has never been charged with any crime, while you think about what you are going to do with them. It should be an absolute last resort to take away somebody’s freedom and it should certainly be an absolute last resort to keep them in that detention environment.

Importantly, most of these reports made by the ombudsman into all of these different cases do not just make a recommendation about what should happen in regard to a visa but in most cases details the person’s experiences in detention and in many cases details the adverse consequences, such as health impacts, of their detention. It does not mention—but I will—that there is also a significant expense involved as well. That does need to be emphasised. If you look at a lot of these people, as I mentioned, a number have ended up with protection visas. But they were in detention for years and years prior to that. This document is a compelling testimony to the pointlessness, futility and—although the report certainly does not use this word—the brutality of locking people up in detention. Some of these people have been locked up for four or five years and then found to be refugees fleeing regimes like Iran, which is widely known as a serious abuser of human rights in regard to many of its citizens. Yet they come here seeking protection and get jailed for four years or more, causing them immense harm.

It is important to continue to draw attention to the fact that these reports appear and to the details of what is in them. There is no point having a section in the act to make sure people do not disappear by requiring these reports to be provided if the reports disappear. I urge people to examine these reports. They are available, I believe, on the Immigration Ombudsman’s web site. I continue to press for more reform to the Migration Act to ensure that this sort of prolonged jailing of people who are not charged with any offence is brought to an end.

Question agreed to.

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