Detention Bill Reopens Split Over Asylum Seekers

Detention bill reopens split over asylum seekers

Yuko Narushima
Immigration Correspondent
The Sydney Morning Herald
August 19, 2009

THE Opposition will vote in the Senate against Labor's planned detention reforms as Liberal fissures opened again over the treatment of asylum seekers.

The Opposition spokeswoman on immigration, Sharman Stone, said the party would seek amendments to the bill, which is designed to give people more time to claim asylum and grant more independence to detainees while their cases were assessed.

The Opposition has consistently linked changes announced by the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, last year with a surge in boat arrivals.

But a parliamentary committee, which includes the Liberal MP, Danna Vale, and the Labor senator, Anne McEwen, said the Government's detention practices were too harsh. Prison-like detention centres, such as the $400 million compound at Christmas Island, should be used only when no other option was available, the committee said.

It also called for more transparency, including publication on the department's website of the number of men, women and children detained at any time.

''We have an obligation to both the Australian and international community to ensure that all people in immigration detention are treated humanely and fairly,'' said the committee chairman, Labor MP Michael Danby.

In a dissenting report the Liberal moderate, Petro Georgiou, attacked the Government's continued detention of children, saying all minors and their families should be freed from ''facilities euphemistically described as alternative and family style''.

''It must be made very clear that both immigration residential housing and transit accommodation are closed, secure environments where detainees are closely monitored by guards and are not allowed to freely come and go,'' he said.

The Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, was also disappointed by the report. She demanded the Government resume control over detention centre management to create a direct line of accountability for what happened inside.

The Government recently broke an election promise by awarding a five-year management contract to Serco, a private contractor.

Dr Stone, a committee member since last November, refused to endorse any of the findings, calling them ''a stab in the dark'' due to the lack of evidence provided.

Repeated attempts to visit Christmas Island after the surge in boat arrivals began were rejected and the department failed to provide a detailed breakdown on how much detention cost, she said.

''This makes a meaningful discussion impossible,'' she wrote in a separate report.

Yesterday Senator Evans said he was committed to mandatory detention and offshore processing.

“The detention centre on Christmas Island is the only large, secure immigration detention facility available other than the Villawood immigration detention centre in Sydney,'' he said.

The detention reform bill is expected to reach the Senate next month.

A bill to stop charging refugees for their detention is expected to be passed this week.