26 September 2023

Ombudsman weighs in on unlawful detention

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The Commonwealth Ombudsman has published the first in a new series of reports on the ongoing investigation into people who were detained in immigration detention unlawfully.

Ombudsman Iain Anderson said that under an own motion investigation he received reports from the Department of Home Affairs about individuals detained on suspicion of being unlawful non-citizens who were subsequently found to be not unlawful and released.

Mr Anderson said he commenced this investigation in 2007 following the high-profile cases of Cornelia Rau, an Australian citizen who was unlawfully detained for 10 months in 2004–2005, and Vivian Alvarez, an Australian citizen who was unlawfully removed from Australia in 2001.

“This ongoing investigation into cases of inappropriate detention continues to provide an important opportunity to identify and address significant and systemic issues in detention,” Mr Anderson said.

“The cases identified in these reports demonstrate the importance of ongoing improvements to policies and procedures, training and quality assurance processes in preventing inappropriate detentions.”

The Ombudsman’s report covers the period 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022 and noted that the number of people inappropriately detained and the average length of time that a person was held in inappropriate detention had decreased since a peak in 2017.

Mr Anderson made seven recommendations to Home Affairs, six of which were accepted including that the Department provide additional training on detecting visa cancellation errors; update its training to include the potential consequences of errors for individuals impacted by them; review the Status Resolution risk matrix used by its Detention Review Manager team; and provide the Ombudsman with a copy of the corrective actions analysis.

Home Affairs did not accept the Ombudsman’s recommendation to provide alternative accommodation where an individual’s release from detention could not be effected immediately.

The Ombudsman’s eight-page report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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