26 September 2023

Ombudsmen anger as deadlines left to die

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Federal, State and Territory Governments are being called on to lift their game in protecting fundamental human rights as a five-year deadline agreed upon with the United Nations (UN) has passed.

Members of Australia’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), which includes Commissioners and Ombudsman from across the country, have issued a joint statement urging Governments to meet their obligations under the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The SA Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People said the ongoing tug of war between the Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments about funding meant they could not implement the new functions.

“It is regrettable that we cannot yet say that we have maintained faith with the community with respect to protections for vulnerable fellow citizens deprived of liberty,” the SA Office said.

“We need legislation and resources to do this work and have been left wanting,” it said.

Commonwealth Ombudsman, Iain Anderson said the 20th of January marked the deadline for Australia to establish its NPM across the country under OPCAT.

Mr Anderson said OPCAT was designed to strengthen protections for people deprived of their liberty because they were vulnerable to breaches of their rights, including through torture or ill-treatment.

He said places of detention were any places where persons were or may be deprived of their liberty, including adult prisons, youth detention facilities, secure health facilities, police/court cells and immigration detention centres.

The Ombudsman said OPCAT required countries that signed up to it, which Australia did in 2017, to establish a system of regular preventive visits to places of detention by independent NPMs.

“Where they have not yet done so, we call on all Australian governments to appoint NPMs, to legislate their role and powers, and to resource them to fully discharge their mandate to carry out preventive visits to places of detention,” Mr Anderson said.

In addition to the SA Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People and Mr Anderson, the joint statement was signed by representatives from the WA Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services; NT Community Visitor Program; NT Ombudsman; Office of the NT Children’s Commission; Tasmanian Ombudsman; ACT Human Rights Commission; ACT Inspector of Correctional Services; and ACT Ombudsman.

The full joint statement can be accessed at this PS News link.

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