Immigration Detention Centres ‘Improved’

Immigration detention centres 'improved'

January 19, 2007 – 4:55PM
The Age (Melbourne)

Conditions within Australia's mainland immigration detention centres have improved substantially, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) says.

But it says mandatory detention laws in Australia should still be abolished.

On Friday, HREOC released a report on Australia's five mainland immigration detention centres: Villawood (Sydney), Baxter (Port Augusta), Perth, Maribyrnong (Melbourne) and Northern (Darwin).

It details the observations made during visits to the centres in October and November last year by Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes and several staff.

Mr Innes said he was surprised to note that most detainees made no complaints about staff attitudes, or the way they were treated.

“It is clear to us that the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) has gone to great lengths to improve the approach and attitude of staff towards detainees in immigration detention centres over the last year,” Mr Innes said.

“There have been substantial efforts to improve the physical environment, reduce the tension levels, enhance the programs and activities available to detainees and improve mental health services.”

However Mr Innes said detainees were still being held in detention for far too long and identified 41 areas where improvements could be made.

Primarily, HREOC wants mandatory detention laws to be repealed, but said if this was not possible there should be greater efforts to release or transfer people out of detention centres within three months.

The group also recommended children do not spend any time inside detention centres except as visitors, all centres hire qualified sport and recreation staff and for the mental health impact of detention to be addressed.

One activity condemned in the report was the use of detainees to wash staff cars at the Northside centre in Darwin.

HREOC said the staff were using detainees for their own personal benefit and the activity should be removed from the internal activities program.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone acknowledged there were areas where immigration detention could be improved and said her staff were working hard to improve the situation.

“My department is already working on several areas identified by HREOC including enhanced case management services and expanded educational and recreational programs at all detention centres,” she said in a statement.

Senator Vanstone welcomed the report and said it showed that hard work paid off.

“This comes as a result of the enhanced training and support we now give to staff at centres to better enable them to do their job fairly and reasonably,” Senator Vanstone said.