[Extracted from House Hansard, 15 June 2005]

Asylum Seekers

Dr LAWRENCE (Fremantle) (7.39 p.m.)- The now notorious cases of Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon have reawakened the general media and community interest in the treatment of asylum seekers more generally in Australia. They have reawakened interest in the system that this parliament ratified. The mistreatment of vulnerable people now has to be squarely faced by all in this place and the wider community. What we know now demands a full judicial inquiry. We know, for example, that at least 13 people have died in detention; as many as four -probably more - have been killed on return to their countries; and 353 people drowned en route to Australia on board the SIEV X. Perhaps as many as 200 - according to the minister - have been wrongfully detained and an unknown number of people have actually been wrongfully deported. These facts alone demand a full judicial inquiry.

While a lot of people have been content to turn their backs and close their ears, a band of dedicated advocates and supporters - who I commend - have provided tangible support to people in detention and those who have been let out on various forms of visa without proper support from the government. They have worked assiduously to try to minimise the damage being done in the government's name - indeed, in the Australian people's name - to so many people. They have selflessly sought to wring concessions from successive ministers and to get them to change their minds about various detainees - sometimes successfully, sometimes not. They have shone a light on the desperate circumstances of the thousands who have had the misfortune to pass through the detention system in Australia and on Manus Island and Nauru. There have, too, been a few determined journalists who have provided the vehicles to tell the stories and highlight the atrocities - because atrocities they are.

This evening I want to present the outline of a petition which will be tabled in due course calling for a royal commission into the treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and immigration detainees. The petition has been compiled by one of the groups I mentioned, Project Safecom, and a dedicated advocate, Jack Smit. It is in the following terms. Already it has 5,278 signatures, and they are rolling in a couple of hundred at a time. It calls for a royal commission into the treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and immigration detainees, and specifically into:

  • conditions, incidents and events, in Australian and 'Pacific Solution' detention centres & all other forms of immigration detention and prisons, police lock-ups, home detention, including how incidents were acted upon and followed up;

  • engagement and administration of the contract between ACM and the Commonwealth of Australia from 1997-2004 incl., and Group 4Falck from 2003 onwards; and the conduct of ACM and GSL in their operation of IDCs;

  • the sinking of SIEVX and the possible role of AFP, ASIS and agents recruited, equipped or tasked by either AFP or ASIS;

  • whether the Howard government influenced ADF & other Commonwealth agencies to suppress information about interception procedures and measures regarding Australia's rescue obligations to refugee claimants attempting to reach Australia in SIEVs;

  • into deaths of immigration detainees including the adequacy of any previous investigations and responses to their deaths, and unnatural deaths of TPV holders in the community;

  • compliance of the TPV regime with international refugee law and its impact on the human rights of refugees on TPV's;

  • whether a bias was present or created in refugee assessment and review;

  • the effects of preventing due access by lawyers, media agents and the public in order to assess, assist, support and report;

  • whether obstructions were caused to the unfettered access to all aspects of legal recourse during assessment, review and appeals;

  • the effects of government policies on their physical and mental health and that of their families and dependants -

  • and a number of other matters.

In all of this, it is very important that we do not let the government off the hook. This is not just about the behaviour of DIMIA, DIMIA staff and contracted companies. It is about the systematic abuse of asylum seekers in this country and it deserves a full, open inquiry. Labor has called for it; members of the community are now calling for it. It is time we opened up this hideous Pandora's box and examined it in all its grotesqueness.

X-URL: http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/reps/dailys/dr150605.pdf

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