26 September 2023

Ombudsman finds deadline alive

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The Commonwealth Ombudsman has highlighted recurring issues of concern in Australia’s places of detention in which people are held while their claims for immigration and other matters are resolved.

In his report, Monitoring Commonwealth Places of Detention the Ombudsman, Iain Anderson pointed out that 20 January was Australia’s deadline for establishing a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) and it was missed.

The Ombudsman said he remained concerned about the increasing number of individuals in long-term held detention and the delays in their case progression.

“There remains a high number of people held in immigration detention,” Mr Anderson said.

“This includes individuals facing apparent indefinite detention, such as those who engage Australia’s protection obligations and cannot be involuntarily removed,” he said.

“I have recommended the Department of Home Affairs work with relevant Ministers to consider alternative arrangements for individuals facing prolonged or indefinite detention.”

Mr Anderson said the average length of time an individual spent in detention had increased by approximately 191 days in the past two years

He said that in June 2021, the average length of time was 673 days, compared to 742 days in June last year.

“The 2021–22 year was dominated by the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on people in detention and staff as in the general community,” the Ombudsman said.

“We continued to carry out our preventive mandate under OPCAT throughout lockdowns and closed State and Territory borders, and were generally satisfied with the management of COVID-19 outbreaks in immigration detention facilities.”

Mr Anderson made 18 recommendations to the Department of Home Affairs, including recommendations on previously-raised concerns such the long-term use of hotels as alternative places of detention; mechanical restraints for medical appointments; and the length of time people were held in detention.

He also made recommendations on the programs and activities available to people held in detention and staff fatigue.

The Ombudsman’s 63-page Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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