Report recommends mandatory detention reform

By Adam Coleman

Australia has moved closer to reforming its mandatory detention policy with a parliamentary committee recommending no person should be held for longer than 12 months unless they pose a significant risk to the community.

The first report of the inquiry into immigration detention in Australia: Immigration detention in Australia: A new beginning recommends Australia limit the time asylum seekers can be held in detention to 90 days before they are considered for visas and stop charging them fees to recover expenses.

In April of 2008, a Joint Standing Committee on Migration investigated Australia’s largest immigration detention centre, the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre and heard evidence that “detainees who posed no risk to the community were being held without just cause and to the detriment of their mental health”.

The report criticises the current immigration detention system established by the Howard Government as arbitrary and “lacking transparency in its administration”.

Amnesty International welcomed the release of the report but suggested it does not go far enough to comply with Australia’s international treaty obligations.

Dr Graham Thom, Amnesty International Australia’s refugee coordinator singled out the decision to limit the detention of asylum seekers to 12 months.

“This means detainees won’t have the right to legally challenge their detention for 12 months, which breaches Australia’s international obligations,” he said.

“Currently Australian law does not provide asylum seekers with protection from arbitrary detention, as is required under international law and conventions.

“People who are detained under our immigration laws should be immediately entitled to appeal to a court to determine if their detention is justified.”

Dr Thom was however encouraged by “significant” reforms such as creating greater transparency in assessing health and character; ensuring recent reforms are enshrined in legislation; and introducing maximum time limits and judicial review.

The report is the first of three reports on immigration detention .The remaining two reports are expected out next year.

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