Ombudsman lent an ear on detainees
Sarah Smiles, Canberra
September 18, 2008
RECOMMENDATIONS made by the Commonwealth Ombudsman on how to handle long-term immigration detainees were often ignored by the former government.
Ombudsman John McMillan made the admission before a parliamentary inquiry into Australia's detention system yesterday.
Professor McMillan is required to annually review the cases of people who have been held in detention for more than two years.
He often makes recommendations on detainees' cases, such as suggesting they are given psychological counselling or released into the community on social security benefits while their cases are determined.
“There was a disappointing response in the past,” Professor McMillan said of the former government. “Those recommendations were often not responded to.”
He said current Immigration Minister Chris Evans had been more “responsive” to his recommendations.
Mr Evans recently announced an overhaul of mandatory detention so that only detainees who pose a risk to the community will be held in detention centres. Others will be released into the community while their cases are assessed.
Professor McMillan said some of the individuals in this group should be given access to social security benefits or even work rights.
Many people in community detention do not have these supports, leaving non-governmental agencies to look after them.
“They are going to need a meal and a roof over their head,” he said. “A person should be given a visa with the most liberal conditions attached to it.”
Mr Evans has not said whether he supported work rights for people in community detention, conceding only that it was a vexed issue.
But Professor McMillan said granting work rights was more preferable to social security in some cases because it did not drain public resources.