19 August 2020
Dear <<First Name>>
L4R Zoom meeting on Wednesday 26 August at 6pm
Please join us next Wednesday via Zoom.
The minutes of our last meeting in July can be read at L4RNSWmin22Jul20
Update - Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention
As reported in our last newsletter, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs met on 3 July. The Committee handed down their report on the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020.
This is the Government's second attempt to introduce this Bill. Labor had expressed concerns about the legislation and ensured it was referred to the Senate Committee for proper scrutiny.
Labor’s Senate team raised a number of concerns in the report. However, the Morrison Government has still not provided sufficient evidence as to why they require these new laws.
Senator Keneally and her Labor colleagues have significant concerns about the generalised nature of the current Bill and the blanket ban of items like mobile phones, regardless of the needs, vulnerabilities or risk profile of individual detainees.
We know that detainees use mobile phones to maintain close contact with friends, family and their legal advisers. This Bill seeks to remove that right without reasonable cause.
Labor Senators have concluded that the Morrison Government either withdraw the Bill or significantly amend it to address these concerns.
If the Government believes these powers are necessary, they must explain why.
This Government has a track record of introducing legislation that is never debated. Labor Senators after having outlined their concerns, now await a response from the Government.
Let’s hope our Party remains steadfast in its opposition to this Bill.
Senator Keneally and MP Andrew Giles Demand Greater Transparency
On the 13 July 2020, Labor frontbenchers Kristina Keneally and Andrew Giles wrote to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge, demanding greater transparency about how the detention network, including APODs, was dealing with COVID-19.
The letter was prompted by the fact that Senator Keneally had received a briefing on the 23 April 2020 by Peter Dutton and Alan Tudge and she had assumed they told her the truth when they assured her that no staff member working in the onshore detention network had tested positive to COVID-19. However, it was later established that as far back as early March, a Kangaroo Point APOD staff member had, in fact, tested positive to COVID-19.
In their 13 July letter, Senator Keneally and Andrew Giles gave Peter Dutton and Alan Tudge the benefit of the doubt. However, I will leave you to decide whether you believe that this piece of crucial information omitted from the Department’s briefing to Labor on the 23 April, was an oversight.
The letter from these two Labor frontbenchers makes a number of demands on the Coalition Keneally-Gilesletter13Jul20
Senator Keneally has also written to L4R members about this incident and asked us to publish her letter for you to read. In it she expresses how deeply disturbed she feels that she was given this incorrect information by Peter Dutton and Alan Tudge.
Her letter to L4R members follows KeneallytoL4RMbrs15Jul20
Report into the current state of immigration detention facilities
The Commonwealth Ombudsman is required by the Migration Act 1958 to assess the appropriateness of the immigration detention arrangements for each person detained for more than two years. The Ombudsman's assessment is provided to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, along with a de-identified version which the Minister must table in Parliament.
The Ombudsman is responsible for keeping Australian government agencies in check.
Last Friday 14 August, the Commonwealth Ombudsman Michael Manthorpe, released his half yearly report about long-term immigration detention. It can be read at report
The report summarises the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s oversight of immigration detention facilities during the period from July to December 2019. It draws on observations from his inspections of immigration detention centres during the period, as well as other aspects of the Office’s oversight: handling complaints, analysis of the number of persons detained and subsequently released as not unlawful, and assessing the circumstances of people in long-term detention.
Manthorpe raised serious concerns about long-term immigration detention and the use of force in detention.
He is troubled by how long some detainees remain locked up, the use of force and shortfalls in privacy as well as mobility access within high-security compounds.
“I remain concerned that people continue to be held for lengthy periods with, in some instances, no probability of being released in the foreseeable future,” he wrote.
“Delays in resolving the immigration status of detainees place considerable strain both on detainees and their families.”
Manthorpe also said he was increasingly concerned about the use of force in immigration detention.
“There appears to be an increasing tendency across the immigration detention network for force to be used to resolve conflict or non-compliant behaviour as the first rather than last choice,” he wrote.
Manthorpe urged the home affairs department to remind staff about the consequences of using inappropriate force and improve their review systems.
He recommended the department give security contractor Serco a dressing down over its inadequate response to one complaint about the use of force and apologise to the person who made it.
“We will continue to monitor, investigate and provide feedback on issues arising from the use of force in immigration detention,” Manthorpe wrote.
The ombudsman was unhappy with the management of complaints and security risk assessments, which his office had raised previously.
He made 12 recommendations – four relating to the use of force – and eight others concerning better monitoring facilities and improving signage about legal rights.
The department agreed with most of the recommendations.
Manthorpe is closely monitoring the government’s response to the coronavirus, including infection controls in immigration detention centres, but says the pandemic is making inspections more challenging.
There are now 1,550 people in immigration detention on the mainland.
More than 70% of detainees have committed crimes and will be deported as a result. About 250 of the most serious criminals are being sent to Christmas Island to free up some space.
Christmas Island has previously housed asylum seekers and, more recently, people returning from the Chinese city of Wuhan in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
The centre is also holding the Tamil family fighting deportation to Sri Lanka after being taken from the Queensland town of Biloela.
The Australia Western Sahara Association & RCOA's “No Child Left Behind” Campaign
We had the pleasure of hearing (and watching) L4R member Lesley Osborne make her presentation at our last meeting, re the Refugee Council of Australia’s “No Child Left Behind” campaign. L4R members unanimously carried a motion to support this campaign and has become a signatory.
The RCOA petition can be accessed here: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/no-child-left-behind/
Lesley, who is the Secretary of the Australia Western Sahara Association (AWSA), also reported on the continued irresolution of the conflict in Western Sahara and work being carried out by the AWSA. This organisation promotes the Western Saharan cause in Australia, campaigning for a free and fair referendum on self-determination for the Saharawi people.
For more details of Lesley’s talk, please read all about these two important campaigns in the minutes of our last meeting (a link to the minutes appears earlier in this newsletter).
For more information, the website address for AWSA is https://awsa.org.au and Facebook page is “Western Sahara Down Under”.
An appeal is being planned in the near future to fund a pipeline to increase the provision of water and sanitation to one of the camps.
Tax deductible donations can be made through Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA’s Western Sahara Project
Liverpool Mayor adds voice to "No Child Left Behind" campaign
Since our last meeting, we have learnt some good news that the Mayor of Liverpool Council Mayor Waller has joined the Refugee Council of Australia and 38 other councils in the No Child Left Behind campaign, adding her name to a letter urging the federal government to extend JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments to families seeking asylum and refugees on temporary visas.
The open letter outlines key concerns for people seeking asylum who have lost work as a result of COVID-19 and remain ineligible for income support programs and - in some instances - Medicare.
Mayor Waller said Liverpool - who welcomed the second highest intake of refugees from 2016-2019 - is currently home to 1,251 people seeking asylum.
She says “We need the Federal Government to act. The idea that any child should go hungry or be at risk of losing their home or even go without medical care is simply not good enough in a country as wealthy as Australia.”
The letter is available to read here.
Public Cost of Excluding Refugees on Temporary Visas and People Seeking Asylum
New research from the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) reveals the enormous public cost of excluding refugees on temporary visas and people seeking asylum from public support during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is projected that 19,000 refugees and people seeking asylum will lose their jobs, almost doubling the unemployment rate in this group. Even those who remain employed will see their wages drop, resulting in 92% of workers earning less than minimum wage.
The loss of work and wages will put refugees and people seeking asylum at higher risk of poor health and homelessness, which is projected to cost governments $23.4 million for hospital admissions and an additional $181 million in health and social services. If access to financial support – such as JobSeeker and JobKeeper – were made available to refugees and people seeking asylum, the enormous cost to the public would be minimised.
The full report can be read here https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/covid-19-assessing-the-public-costs/
RCOA CEO Paul Power said that the report’s findings were an indictment of the Federal Government’s decision to exclude refugees and people seeking asylum from COVID-19 related support: “The government is knowingly pushing people into poverty, homelessness and destitution, at great social and financial cost. Today, we once again urge the government to rethink this policy and extend a safety net, based on need not on visa status, to all people living in Australia who cannot survive without it.”
ALP National Conference
The ALP has decided to defer its National Conference which was scheduled to take place in Canberra on 10-12 December this year. We have yet to be advised formally of this decision. We believe that although Delegates will not be meeting at the Conference this year to debate Party policy, Labor intends to proceed with the examination of Labor's Platform with a view to "simplifying" it. This will most likely take the form of the Party inviting members to make policy submissions to the National Policy Forum.
When this happens, L4R members will continue to advocate for the reform of the Party's refugee policy. We must also be vigilant to ensure that the Party's desire to simplify the Platform, does not jeopardize our hard fought-for refugee policies which the ALP has adopted to date.
As soon as Party Units recommence holding face-to-face meetings, members can support refugee motions which can then be submitted to the National Policy Forum as soon as the ALP notifies members they can do so.
You may recall that after our Tele-Town Hall Zoom event earlier this year, there was overwhelming support for the following motion to be sent to Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, urging him to loudly advocate for the release into community detention, of refugees and people seeking asylum who are locked up in APODs and Immigration Detention Centres.
‘We call on Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese to demand the immediate release of all refugees and asylum seekers being held in onshore and offshore detention as well as in temporary hotel accommodation. Asylum seekers urgently need to be moved to safe community accommodation to ensure their health and safety, particularly in the face of the current COVID-19 crisis”
Please support this motion and when the time is right, send a copy of it to Senator Kristina Keneally and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.
Labor for Refugees will be examining the refugee section of the ALP Platform and when the Policy Forum invites submissions, we will submit our amendments. We plan to share our amendments with you so that you can also support them. Please watch this space.