Today, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Michael Manthorpe, published a report about his Office’s activities in overseeing immigration detention.
This report summarises the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s oversight of immigration detention facilities during the period from January to June 2020. It draws on observations from the Office’s inspections and monitoring of immigration detention centres during the period. The report also draws on the Office’s oversight through handling complaints; analysis of the number of persons detained and subsequently released as not unlawful; and assessments of the circumstances of people in long-term detention.
The Ombudsman’s Office is also the Commonwealth National Preventive Mechanism under the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).
‘Our visits to places of detention – and our public reports – play a critical role in protecting the rights of people who are deprived of their liberty’, Mr Manthorpe said.
This report makes three recommendations for improvement. ‘I remain concerned about the reasonableness of the use of force within the immigration detention network, the way complaints are handled and how vulnerable detainees are managed. The three recommendations focus on these areas’.
The Ombudsman acknowledged the Department of Home Affairs’ recent implementation of a new Operational Notification to address use of force, including use of the ‘ground stabilisation’ technique, in immigration detention, in response to the Office’s concerns and recommendation.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman also remains concerned about delays in the case progression of people in long term detention, including delays in administrative processes. The Office continues to make recommendations, on a case by case basis, to expedite assessments against the guidelines for ministerial intervention and other aspects of a person’s case progression, such as the consideration of a visa or the lifting of a bar to allow a person to apply for a visa.
‘Given the long and undefined periods for which people can be held, and notwithstanding the legitimate national security and other risks that might be at play in some cases, it is crucial that each person’s case be kept under review, with an eye to fairness and compassion.’
The report also provides an overview of the number and types of complaints we receive about immigration detention facilities. ‘The complaints my Office receive play an important role in informing our work as the Commonwealth NPM, by highlighting possible systemic issues for consideration at future monitoring visits’, Mr Manthorpe said.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present particular risks in detention environments, and challenges for inspection bodies. The Office will continue to monitor the Department of Home Affairs’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic including the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across the network.