28 Feb 2017

Detention centre mobile ban will 'prevent crime'

9:16 am on 28 February 2017

Australia's Border Force Commissioner has defended his agency's decision to ban all mobile phone use in the nation's onshore detention centres, arguing it is a way of cracking down on crime within the facilities.

Villawood Detention Centre

Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney. Photo: AFP

During a senate hearing, Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg was questioned about the policy, which he signed off on late last year.

"I cannot countenance running a custodial setting, which has a facility that allows mobile phones, to be used as an enabler to crime," he told the committee.

"I just cannot ensure the security and safety of detainees across the population by running centres where I allow mobile phones to be used broadly.

"The phones will be used for drug activities and escape plans."

Mr Quaedvlieg said he had discussed the policy with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton for the better part of 12 months, and there had been a three-month grace period before the seizure of phones was to begin.

Labor Senator Louise Pratt asked why such an "onerous policy" was being applied to all detainees in the onshore facilities, including those being held there ahead of their deportation from the country.

Last week detainees in Australia centres won an urgent injunction against the ban, ahead of a full court hearing.

Mr Quaedvlieg cited examples of criminal behaviour he hoped to stamp out by enforcing the ban, which included halting a drug supply chain being operated from within a facility and preventing detainees from planning their escapes.

"It's a balance to be achieved," he told the senate committee.

"Where we are able to provide access to phone infrastructure, i.e. hard lines that are adequate, then being able to remove smartphones in particular from our custodial setting.

"And I can tell you very clearly that it becomes a currency within our centres - persons who have phones will be stood over for those phones."

The Federal Court is due to hear more of the case brought by refugee advocates next month.

Advocates argue mobile phones are an essential lifeline for detainees needing to seek legal advice, and help to prevent suffering and mental health crises while behind bars.

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