Concern over Aus bill for use of force in immigration
An asylum seeker advocate says a proposed law change could allow people in immigration detention to be exposed to excessive force and degrading treatment.
An asylum seeker advocate says a proposed law change could mean people in immigration detention are exposed to excessive force and degrading treatment.
The Australian government is seeking to make immigration officers largely immune from liability for using force on detainees, if it is believed necessary to protect others in detention or maintain good order.
The bill (The Migration Amendment (Maintaining the Good Order of Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2015) comes amid repeated incidents of unrest at Canberra's detention centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Ben Pynt from the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network, told Mary Baines about his submission on the bill.
The bill is the subject of a Senate inquiry that is due to report next month.
BEN PYNT: The government proposes to meet mental vulnerability and growing distress inside detention centres with the statutory increase allowance for the use of force. We don't think this is an appropriate way to manage people with mental vulnerabilities and we are very concerned that basically the government is removing most channels of oversight from the detention centre process.
MARY BAINES: What will this law change, if it goes ahead, mean for the lives of asylum seekers in detention?
BP: It will mean that there are less channels for them to appeal the use of force against them, it will mean that authorised officers and the minister will be able to designate with the stroke of a pen and tell them what training they're required to have, will be able to use force up to the point of grievous bodily harm and up to the point of cruel and degrading treatment when treating people who respond in an aggressive manner. We're really concerned that people with post-traumatic stress and people with particular mental vulnerabilities will often naturally respond aggressively when people try to man-handle them or when people tell them they have to go somewhere else, as in be transferred to another centre, without knowing why that transfer is taking place or when or how. We're really concerned that basically the government is allowing authorised officers, who are essentially people contracted by organisations like Serco and the International Health and Medical Service, to use huge amounts of force against people who have absolutely no way of appealing it.
MB: Are there any safeguards in the bill that ensure such powers given to the immigration officers are exercised responsibly?
BP: The only safeguards are completely unacceptable. Really the main safeguard will be access to complaint through the secretary at the Department of Immigration, which poses an inherent conflict of interest to the secretary. He will be forced to decide whether his officers or officers designated by his department have used force appropriately, and whether they believed that the use of force was necessary in the circumstances. There's also appeals to the Immigration Ombudsman. Now, the Ombudsman doesn't have any powers of compulsion, so he can't order that somebody be removed from their post, he can't order that somebody be imprisoned, even if they've broken the law, and he can't order any damages to be awarded to somebody who has been the subject of unreasonable use of force. And we're particularly concerned that the standard imposed by the bill is an subjective standard, rather than an objective standard, which makes it almost impossible to decide that somebody didn't believe that the use of force was appropriate.
MB: So the bill doesn't define what "reasonable force" amounts to, but could result in grievous bodily harm?
BP: The use of force could only amount to grievous bodily harm if the officer reasonably thought it was necessary to do so. That's a subjective standard, so if the person's having a particularly bad day, or they had a particular dislike for this person, or they thought they were a risk, then that subjective standard would be met.
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