DOCUMENTS – Refugee Review Tribunal 2 – Speech

Senator BARTLETT (Queensland) (6.58 p.m.)—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This document relates to a similar topic to the one I have just been speaking to. This is the response by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Evans, to the Ombudsman’s report on people who are in long-term detention, which is the next document on the Order of Business. Again, these reports—this one and the next one I will speak to—are a consequence of the legislative amendments made in 2005, in part as a response to pressure from Liberal backbenchers. I should note that very much bolstering the ability of those Liberal backbenchers to apply pressure was the much wider degree of public concern voiced by many people, including of course me and many others in the Democrats, in this chamber and outside in the community over a long period of time.

I note in passing an interesting statistical fact from the recent elections, that outside Western Australia, which was somewhat anomalous, the two Liberal Party sitting members who had the least swing against them were Mr Broadbent and Mr Georgiou from the seats of Kooyong and McMillan. I am not saying that it was all solely down to that issue but I think that it is an interesting parallel that those two people had the least swing against them in the entire eastern part of the country. That suggests to me not that it is necessarily even that their electorates or that their policy views were responsible but that the electorate appreciates local members who actually stand up strongly for what they believe in. It is an indication, I think, also shown by the strong results achieved over a number of terms by the unfortunately now deceased former member for Calare Mr Andren.

To the topic of this statement, I congratulate the minister not just because it is a very brief statement, which makes it easy to read quickly—it is only three paragraphs—but also because it is a very positive statement consistent with his response to the previous report. It is worth noting, as indeed the minister does, that of the 29 assessments of the Commonwealth Ombudsman tabled in parliament today covering 19 people, 13 of those people are still in immigration detention. The only reason these people are being inquired into is because they are in immigration detention for a prolonged period of time.

I also note the minister’s comment that an additional 48 people currently in immigration detention have been detained for longer than two years. That is over 60 people still in immigration detention for more than two years. It cannot be said often enough that we are talking about people who have not been charged with a crime let alone convicted of one. Yet they have been in immigration detention for more than two years and are still there today. So even though the issue has gone off the front pages, we should not kid ourselves that people are not still being locked up for long periods of time without charge or trial. It is still happening. It is happening as we speak.

It is very heartening to see the minister’s comment that he is deeply concerned that so many detention cases have taken so long to resolve and that he is determined to individually review each of the 61 long-term detention cases in conjunction with the department prior to making a decision on each of them and setting himself a deadline of April 2008. Any of us who have been around this place for any length of time know that ministers usually try to avoid setting themselves specific dates as deadlines, because they know they can come back to bite them. So it is doubly commendable that Minister Chris Evans has set himself that deadline. There was no obligation to have done that, but he has done so. I think that is a strong indication of his genuineness in this regard.

I would note the comments that he has made that long-term detainees who pose no risk to the community should be considered for other forms of management by the department other than continuing to be locked up in detention. I welcome that common-sense statement by the minister and I congratulate him for his action in taking personal responsibility for seeking to resolve all of the 61 extremely long-term detention cases. None of them have ever been charged with anything or convicted of anything and he has undertaken to seek a resolution by the end of next month. That is very commendable. It is very welcome, and I certainly hope, knowing that some of these cases are not easy ones, that he is able to bring about positive results. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.

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