Push To Abandon Villawood Centre

Push to abandon Villawood centre

Stephanie Peatling
Sydney Morning Herald
January 14, 2008

VILLAWOOD detention centre in Sydney's south-west should be abandoned and a completely new centre built on Commonwealth land elsewhere in the city, a recommendation being prepared for the Federal Government says.

The Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, has asked the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to report on what could be done to improve the detention centre which, he says, is “not acceptable”.

One proposal is for an 800-bed centre to be built on Commonwealth land elsewhere in the city – a recommendation made to the previous minister, Kevin Andrews, a year ago.

Mr Andrews approved the new facility then dropped it in favour of a redevelopment of the existing centre, a plan that had been announced and then shelved in 2004.

Senator Evans faces a barrage of calls from refugee advocates to close Villawood, but any decision to build a new centre will have to be approved by the Expenditure Review Committee.

Getting rid of Villawood raises questions about the site. It would be a prime candidate to meet the Federal Government's promise to make available surplus Commonwealth land for housing.

Senator Evans visited Villawood in December shortly after becoming minister.

“It was clear to me that conditions in Stage One [the highest security area] of the Villawood facility are not acceptable and this was highlighted in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report released on Wednesday,” he said yesterday.

Although Senator Evans has not yet formally considered any options for the future of the detention centre, he said that proposals included both refurbishing and replacing the high-security section.

“I have also asked the department to provide me with a comprehensive response to the broader criticisms outlined in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's report,” Senator Evans said.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration would not comment on options to be presented to Senator Evans.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission last week urged the immediate redevelopment of the high-security section of Villawood, which it described as the “most prison-like” of all Australia's detention centres.

Yesterday the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commissioner, Graeme Innes, said he was not aware of any new proposals for the future of Villawood but was familiar with the recommendation made to Mr Andrews last year.

“If the Federal Government wants to demolish Stage One they would have to build an alternative centre,” Mr Innes said.

While there would always be a need for a high-security detention centre, Mr Innes said he would prefer to see as many people as possible housed in different accommodation.

Mr Innes has urged the Federal Government to accommodate as many detainees as possible in residential rather than dormitory-style housing.

A spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul, said Stage One was “a punishment unit that epitomises the hellhole that is Villawood”.