DOCUMENTS – Commonwealth and Immigration Ombudsman Speech

Senator BARTLETT (Queensland) (7.04 p.m.)—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

It should be emphasised that when the parliament made amendments to the Migration Act to require the examination of all people in immigration detention for prolonged periods, the Senate specifically included the requirement that reports be tabled in this place about each of these cases. These concern individual human beings who in some cases have suffered immensely as a result of our mandatory detention laws. I think it is only reasonable, as part of that process of scrutiny, that when the reports are tabled they do actually get noted and that people are made aware of what is in them, rather than having them just becoming another pile of paper that thumps the desk and disappears down into the basement.

It is another report that contains disturbing reading, particularly concerning some of those who are repeat reports. An example I would give from here is case No. 8, a person who has been in immigration detention for six years. He has already had four reports from the Ombudsman. His first report was sent to the minister on 25 November 2005. At that time the then minister’s response was to consider the recommendations. It was recommended that serious consideration be given to his release back in November 2005. The Ombudsman’s report in March 2007 recommended that the person be granted an appropriate visa with appropriate safeguards so that he could be released from detention while his immigration status was resolved. The minister’s response was that his department was continuing to monitor this client’s case. Well, that is really helpful! Whilst he is monitoring, this person has stayed locked up.

It cannot be emphasised strongly enough that we have a person here who has not been convicted of any crime and who has not been charged with any crime, and he has now been in jail for over six years. Previous reports from the Ombudsman recommending that he be let out into the community with appropriate safeguards and appropriate oversights have met with the response from the government that they would monitor that. That is the level of concern—or total absence of concern—that the previous government showed to basic concepts of the rule of law and civil liberties.

We should not forget how significant a thing it is to take away a person’s freedom and to arbitrarily lock them up indefinitely—in this case over six years—just because they are a difficult migration case. It beggars belief that this is what our country’s laws have stooped to, but we should all remember that this is what our country’s laws still allow because this is a reality now. Our laws now require this man to still be jailed after more than six years.

There are other examples in the report that are not much better. There is another person who has been locked up since February 2003 and another example of a man, now 60, who has been locked up also for six years. This should be unacceptable in a civilised country; it should be unacceptable in a country that calls itself a democracy and promotes the rule of law and fundamental basics of liberty. One of the fundamental parts of the Magna Carta going back to 1215—we have a very rare copy of it up in the public viewing area in Parliament House—is that a person should not be able to be jailed without charge or trial and yet that is what our laws enable. I encourage senators to look through these examples and to see the total lack of concern.

That is why the new minister’s response is welcome because he is not just saying, ‘Thanks for that report, we’ll think about it a bit.’ He has given a personal commitment to act on and resolve these cases once and for all and as quickly as possible. We are talking about people who are having their freedom denied—so that is the least they can expect. They do not get any trial, they do not get any proper due process and they do not have any charges laid against them. The least they can expect is prompt attention by the people who are, in effect, the ones who have taken away their freedom which is the federal government and the department, compulsorily, mandatorily because mandatory detention still exists under our migration laws. We should remove it as soon as possible. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.

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