Detainee distributing child exploitation images shows need for new mobile phone seizure powers

Actions this week of a serial sex offender in an immigration detention centre demonstrate clearly the need for new powers for Australian Border Force to seize mobile phones in our immigration detention facilities. 

The detainee, who is awaiting deportation after his visa was cancelled, has been found viewing and distributing more than 6000 images of child exploitation material on his mobile phone, while in immigration detention.

The 46 year old Finnish man, who is now in the custody of Queensland Corrective Services, will never set foot in Australia again.

The case is abhorrent. Those thousands of images will have devastating, life-long impacts on many innocent children.

The case highlights why stronger laws are needed to allow Australian Border Force to search for and seize mobile phones from immigration detainees.

Yet under current laws, officers are not legally able to search for or seize mobile phones, even if they know they are being misused. The current laws also prevent officers searching for and seizing items that are illegal, such as illicit drugs or extremist material.

Officers must rely on police to do this important work for them. 

This is not good enough.

Right now, the Morrison Government has legislation before the Parliament that will give Australian Border Force officers the powers they need to keep our detention centres safe and the Australian community safe.

The Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020, which I introduced in May this year, would allow officers to search for and seize mobile phones, tablets and other internet enabled devices.  The Bill does not propose a blanket ban on mobile phones, but would allow reasonable search and seizures. 

All detainees would still have access to telephones and the internet. 

More than 60 per cent of people in immigration detention have criminal backgrounds. There have been almost 600 reports of phone misuse in the last four years.  Detainees have used mobile phones to conduct criminal activities such as fraud, drug deals, the grooming of children and other child exploitation offences, such as this one.

This is the second time the Government has attempted to pass this legislation. On both occasions Labor and the Greens have not supported it.

This is unacceptable. 

The Labor Party must put the safety and interests of Australians above the rights of criminals being deported. 

Additional examples where officers have not been able to remove a mobile phone from a detainee:

A detainee who was already facing charges including possess child exploitation material was found to have been interfering with witnesses, including by contacting the parents of his alleged victims by mobile phone while in immigration detention. ABF officers were powerless to seize the mobile phone.

A detainee who did not pass the character test due to holding extremist ideologies (including those involving politically motivated violence) was streaming extremist propaganda videos via his smart phone and seeking to engage other detainees in discussions of his extremist views. ABF officers were powerless to seize the mobile phone.

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