Observations following the Inspection of Mainland Immigration Detention
Click here for:
- Overview of visits
- Purpose of inspections
- Methodology for inspections
- Staff attitudes
- Length and uncertainty of detentoin periods
- Alternatives to detention centres
- Client Placement Model
- Children in detention
- Mental health care
- Physical health care
- Recreational activities
- Education programs
- Purchasing Allowance Scheme (PAS)
- Commission Posters
This report is a brief summary of the observations made
by the Human Rights Commissioner and staff of the Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission). These summary notes and recommendations are
based on what we personally observed and heard from staff and detainees during
our immigration detention facility inspections.
This report includes:
- an overview of observations and recommendations arising
from the inspections.
- a description of the methodology for the
- a series of general observations relevant across all the
immigration detention facilities
- additional observations specific to individual
immigration detention facilities.
The Commission has provided an opportunity to the
Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), and the private contractors
involved in detention centre services (GSL), to see an advance copy of this
summary. They have also been provided an opportunity to respond to our
observations and recommendations.
In the Commission’s report on visits conducted during 2006,
we commented on the improvement in approach and attitude of DIAC and GSL staff
running immigration detention centres. In general, these improvements in
attitude remain evident during our 2007 visits.
In particular, the Commission commends DIAC and GSL on
substantial improvements made at the Northern Immigration Detention Centre
(NIDC). Many of the problems raised by the Commission in 2006 had been corrected by the
time of our visit in October 2007.
There have also been continuing efforts to improve the
physical environment and roll out much-needed refurbishments and renovations in
In particular, refurbishments at Maribyrnong Immigration
Detention Centre (MIDC) create a much brighter and more pleasant environment.
The quality of accommodation at Sydney Immigration Residential Housing (SIRH)
and the new Perth Immigration Residential Housing (PIRH) is also
The Commission is also pleased that the provision of internet
facilities has been improved, with reasonable access for most detainees in
detention, with the exception of NIDC. We hope that the roll-out of internet
facilities continues, including in the Immigration Residential Housing
However, the Commission is greatly disappointed that there have
been no improvements to Stage 1 of Villawood Immigration Detention Centre
(VIDC). It remains the most prison-like of all facilities and it houses some of
the most long-term detainees. In our previous report we recommended that Stage 1
be demolished. We reiterate that recommendation in this report.
In addition, the Commission is disappointed that the external
excursions programs, which we praised highly at certain centres in our last
report, have been scaled back at all facilities, both in numbers and variety.
NIDC is the exception. While we acknowledge that NIDC currently holds a
different detainee population to other facilities, it is clear that the external
excursions program has greatly reduced tension within that centre and reduced
health and mental health complaints among detainees. In contrast, the suspension
of excursions in VIDC has led to substantial detainee unrest and
The Commission also reiterates its view that detainees are still
held in detention for too long. The IRHs, residence determinations and bridging
visas should be used more readily to help alleviate the serious health and
mental health issues which often arise from long term detention. It is
especially concerning that detainees themselves seem unaware of their various
options for placement under the Client Placement Model, and their rights to
request residence determinations.
The Commission has identified a range of areas for improvement
within each of the detention facilities. A comprehensive list of recommendations
arising out of the 2007 inspections follows.
Mandatory detention and alternatives to
- Australia’s mandatory detention laws should be
repealed. The Commission has made this recommendation, and proposed alternative models,
in its previous report on visits, and in various inquiries into immigration
detention may be acceptable for a short period in order to conduct
security, identity and health checks, currently mandatory detention laws require detention for more than these purposes, for unlimited
periods of time and in the absence of independent review of the need
The Commission believes that any decision to detain a person
should be under the prompt scrutiny of the judicial system. Further, there
should be outer limits on the periods for which immigration detention is
- In the absence of repealing mandatory detention, there
should be greater efforts to promptly (within three months) release or transfer
people out of detention centres by:
- resolving substantive visa decisions
- releasing detainees on bridging or removal pending visas
- transferring detainees to residence
- transferring detainees to places of alternative detention
(in the event that (a) – (c) cannot be
- DIAC should increase the size and fully utilise the
Sydney Immigration Residential Housing (SIRH) facility.
- DIAC should fully utilise the Perth immigration
Residential Housing (PIRH)
- DIAC should make greater efforts to arrange residence
determinations for all people who are detained for three months or more, in the
absence of specific concerns about a serious flight risk or serious character
- The Minister or DIAC should have discretion to vary the
conditions of residence determinations so that detainees can engage in
meaningful activities such as further education and training leading to
occupational qualifications, and work, if
Client placement model
- DIAC case managers should actively explore and discuss
with each detainee the various bridging visa and alternative detention
arrangements available to them (including residence determinations, alternative
detention in the community and immigration residential housing
Children in detention
- Children with their families should only be detained in
IRHs for a maximum period of four weeks. Unaccompanied children should only be
detained in Immigration Residential Housing for a maximum period of two
- In the event that they are detained for longer than three
weeks, DIAC should arrange some educational activities for juveniles detained at
- DIAC should co-ordinate with the child welfare agencies
over the care arrangements for unaccompanied minors in detention. Memoranda of
Understanding (MOUs) should clarify the arrangements for the guardianship of
unaccompanied minors. DIAC should ensure contact between an unaccompanied minor
and the State welfare authority with responsibility for their welfare, whether
in detention or released on a
- DIAC should not send detainees from Stages 2 or 3 in
Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, to the Stage 1 Suicide and Self-Harm
(SASH) observation rooms. Wherever possible, SASH observations should take place
in the detainee’s immediate environments and close to medical
- DIAC should update detainees regularly as to the status
of any requests for specialist treatment and any reasons why a referral has or
has not been approved.
- DIAC should ensure prompt responses to recommendations
made by doctors, especially where there are recommendations for external
Education and recreational
- DIAC should continue a regular and varied excursions
program for all detainees in immigration detention facilities, including those
in IRHs. Detainees on s501 visa cancellations should not be automatically barred
from participating in excursions.
- Perth Immigration Detention Centre and Maribyrnong
Immigration Detention Centre should investigate the possibility of holding
external soccer games for detainees who wish to participate. Villawood
Immigration Detention Centre should permit Stage 1 detainees to regularly
utilise the Stage 3 soccer field.
- DIAC should further upgrade gym facilities in Stage 1
Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre
and Perth Immigration Detention Centre. They should be enclosed to ensure
privacy and accessibility in winter months.
- DIAC should continue to expand access to computers and
internet facilities, including in Northern Immigration Detention Centre and
Sydney Immigration Residential Housing.
- Villawood Immigration Detention Centre should explore
options for detainee access to books. Options include: visits to a local
library, visits by a local librarian and internet lending.
- DIAC should cease the policy which prohibits detainees
from enrolling in courses leading to a qualification. DIAC should allow
long-term detainees to enrol in substantive education courses at TAFE and other
institutions, irrespective of whether it leads to a qualification.
Enrolment could be by correspondence. However, DIAC should also consider
permitting detainees to attend certain classes in person.
- DIAC should remove the cap on the number of points that
can be earned in any month under the Purchasing Allowance Scheme (PAS). DIAC
should consider a lay-by system for long term detainees so that detainees can
buy larger items more
- DIAC should explore alternative means of providing
greater variety of meals, and autonomy in food choice. Some possibilities
include activities kitchens (which were successful in Baxter IDC), cooking
classes, special food nights and occasional take-away
- DIAC should, where possible, ensure the availability of
permanent onsite interpreters when there is a large detainee population from a
single language group. This is particularly relevant to Villawood Immigration
Detention Centre with a large population of Mandarin-speaking detainees.
- DIAC should ensure that all official documents, including
documents and notices about the operation of the centres, are provided in the
main languages of the detainee population. Detainees should be able to request
assistance in translating personal
- DIAC should ensure that Commission posters are posted clearly
in all communal areas within detention facilities (including the visitors area),
in both language versions provided by
- DIAC should demolish Stage 1, Villawood Immigration
Detention Centre, and replace it with a new facility as a matter of priority.
- Renovations at Perth Immigration Detention Centre should
take place promptly. The centre should be closed temporarily while renovations
are taking place. Detainees should be transferred to alternative arrangements
and be fully informed of the process in advance.
The purpose of inspecting immigration detention
facilities is to monitor the conditions of immigration detention in Australia
for compliance with internationally-recognised human rights
In addition to regular inspections of immigration
detention facilities, the Commission undertakes a range of activities aimed at ensuring
Australia meets its obligations to people in immigration detention. Information
about these activities can be found on the the Commission website (www.humanrights.gov.au).
5.1 Schedule of inspections
The Commission visited all Australian mainland detention
facilities according to the following schedule:
Villawood Immigration Detention Centre (VIDC) &
Sydney Immigration Residential Housing (SIRH)
13-15 August 2007
Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre (MIDC)
4-5 September 2007
Perth Immigration Detention Centre (PIDC) & Perth
Immigration Residential Housing (PIRH)
17-18 September 2007
Northern Immigration Detention Centre (NIDC)
8-9 October 2007
Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation (Brisbane
19 November 2007
Baxter IDC (in Port Augusta, SA) was closed prior to our
scheduled visit there in August 2007.
In addition, the Commission visited six detainees who were, or
who had been, in community detention (under residence determinations) in
Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. These were
- one unaccompanied minor (Sydney)
- three families (Adelaide, Melbourne and
- one single man (Perth)
- one single woman (Sydney).
The Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes
AM, visited all the centres and several of the detainees in community detention.
The Commissioner was accompanied by one or two staff
members for all visits.
During the course of the visits there were two detainees
on Christmas Island. The Commission did not visit the Christmas Island facility due to
the small numbers of detainees. In the event that there are a significant number
of detainees on Christmas Island in the future, the Commission will contact DIAC to
arrange a visit to that facility.
The Commission did not visit the Offshore Processing Centre on
the Pacific island of Nauru. Under the previous government’s so-called
‘Pacific Solution’, unauthorised arrivals who arrive in
Australia’s ‘excised territories’ may be sent to the Offshore
Processing Centre on Nauru and kept there while their claims for protection are
assessed. In May 2007, the Human Rights Commissioner wrote to the former
Minister for Immigration and Citizenship requesting assistance in facilitating a
visit to Nauru’s Offshore Processing Centre. The Minister declined to
provide that assistance.
Before each visit, DIAC provided relevant detainee
statistics to help Commission staff get a sense of the numbers and demographics of
The Commission engaged in the following activities during each of
- Tour and general inspection of the detention
- Interviews with relevant GSL and DIAC management
- Separate interviews with:
- (a) Health care staff
- (b) Mental health care staff
- (c) Education and recreation staff
- (d) Kitchen staff.
- Lunch with detainees in the communal dining
- Discussions with members of the detainee representative
committee (where there is one).
- Individual interviews with any detainees wishing to speak
to the Commission about their detention. (All detainees were informed in advance of
the Commission’s visit and asked to indicate their interest in speaking to Commission
staff. In addition, Commission staff approached detainees while touring the
- Inspection of documents relevant to the systems in place
to ensure the appropriate treatment of detainees in the facilities.
- Follow-up of any issues arising during the visits with
GSL and DIAC management staff.
In general, the improvement in staff attitudes, which we
noted in the 2006 summary of observations, remained evident during our visits in
2007. DIAC and GSL staff appear open to requests, suggestions and concerns
voiced by detainees.
During our visits, Commission staff specifically asked
detainees about their treatment by detention staff. While there were a few
complaints about the attitudes of individual staff members, most detainees we
spoke to had no complaint about their treatment by GSL and DIAC staff
Despite efforts to improve the environment inside
immigration detention facilities, the fundamental problems with immigration
detention has not changed for detainees – namely, the length of detention
and the uncertainty about how much longer that detention will last.
Although alternative forms of detention are being
utilised, the majority of detainees are still held in detention centres, some of
them for years. For example, statistics provided to us by DIAC on 27 July 2007
show that of 231 immigration detainees at the VIDCC, 77 people had been in
detention for over a year.
We met detainees who expressed extreme frustration and
depression at the length of time they had been detained. It is inevitable that
this fact, combined with uncertainty of an outcome, leads to mental health
problems. As we mentioned in our 2006 summary of inspections, it does not take
years for mental health problems to begin.
The Commission notes that there now exist a number of
alternatives to detention in immigration detention centres. A small, but
significant, number of detainees are able to access these alternative forms of
detention. Of these alternatives, the Commission was able to visit the IRH centres, one
Immigration Transitional Accommodation facility, a small selection of people on
Residence Determination arrangements, as well as some juveniles held in
alternative detention arrangements.
IRHs (previously named Residential Housing Centres) aim
to provide family-style housing where detainees can experience greater autonomy.
Detainees can prepare and cook their own food and make shopping trips and other
excursions under the supervision of the detention services provider.
There are two IRHs currently in operation:
- SIRH, which opened in 2006, continues to operate adjacent
to the VIDC, in Sydney.
- PIRH, in the suburb of Redcliffe in Perth, opened early
At the time of our visits, there were 21
people detained at SIRH (14 August 2007) and four people at PIRH (18 September
The IRH in Port Augusta, SA, closed in August 2007 (as
did Baxter IDC). There are no IRH’s in Melbourne, Darwin or Brisbane.
Immigration Residential Housing (SIRH)
SIRH consists of five houses in a row, each split into
two mirror-image homes. One side of the house has one double bedroom, storage
area, bathroom and dining/living area. The other side has two bedrooms, a
bathroom and dining/living area. The two sides share a common kitchen. They also
share an outside ‘garage’ area where visitors are allowed to meet
detainees. One house is accessible for people with disabilities.
The facilities are comfortable, although the common
kitchen area is a little cramped. The houses face a long garden strip with a
playground, newly planted trees and an open double garage with couches, TV, ping
pong table and BBQ.
In principle, the facility can hold 40 people, although
in order to accommodate different needs, there are usually fewer people
Immigration Residential Housing (PIRH)
PIRH consists of two separate houses, which share a
common courtyard and garden area. Each house has five bedrooms, which can
accommodate up to ten people altogether, although much fewer detainees are
usually accommodated there. The bedrooms surround two living areas and a very
large kitchen/dining area. One house is accessible for people with disabilities.
The facilities are comfortable and bright, with an
outlook onto the garden. The houses are situated in a regular suburban street,
backing onto an open field.
in the Immigration Residential Housing
The IRHs are undoubtedly softer detention environments
than detention centres. Detainees we spoke to in the two IRHs were much happier
in these facilities than the detention centres, due to the greater freedom,
privacy and contact with outside community.
However, it is important to remember that the IRHs are
still detention facilities. People are not free to come and go as they please,
and must be accompanied by detention staff when they visit external
The Commission observed the following issues specific to the two
- The IRHs do not seem to be used to their full
- As almost all activities at the IRHs are external.
Internal activities are limited, especially at SIRH. When external activities
are restricted for operational reasons, or for reasons specific to certain
detainees (as was the case with four detainees in the SIRH at the time of our
visit), they are left with fewer activities than if they were in the detention
centre (see section on excursions below).
- Internet facilities had not yet been fully rolled out in
IRHs at the time of our visit.
- There are some difficulties accommodating men, women and
families in shared or group houses. If an argument between detainees occurs, the
size and arrangement of the IRHs may limit the flexibility of placing detainees
apart from each other. This is particularly the case at PIRH, where there are
only two houses.
DIAC should increase the size and fully
utilise the SIRH facility.
DIAC should fully utilise the PIRH
Transit Accommodation facilities
The Immigration Transit Accommodation facilities (ITAs)
aim to provide temporary accommodation to people who will be spending a short
time in detention or are a low security risk before they are transferred to
other centres or returned home.
The Brisbane ITA at Pinkenba opened on 1 November 2007.
The Commission inspected the ITA on 19 November 2007.
At the time of our visit there were no detainees in the
facility. However, since its opening two weeks previously, 13 detainees had been
detained at the ITA. These were all short term detainees, made up of airport
arrivals, visa overstayers and a number of people whose visas had been cancelled
under s501 of the Migration Act 1958 (the Act), in transition to other
facilities or due for imminent removal.
Detainees can only remain at the Brisbane ITA for an
initial seven days, and a total of fourteen days maximum. Detainees who are s501
visa cancellations are not expected to stay longer than 24 hours maximum.
The Brisbane ITA consists of three accommodation blocks,
each with five rooms (most with two beds) with ensuites, a kitchen/dining/living
room and laundry facilities.
The centre is surrounded by a perimeter fence of low to
medium height, similar to a pool fence, with infra red line alarm system. The
facility is low-security. Only two GSL officers are regularly stationed day and
night at the centre. Detainees receive key cards to access their bedrooms, with
locked cupboards for their belongings.
Pre-prepared food is provided by GSL officers. There are
large outdoor spaces including a new basketball court, DVDs and internet
facilities. A nurse is currently on site three times a week.
In general, it appears the ITA is a satisfactory
facility for transitional accommodation. The Commission will monitor detainee conditions
at the ITA during the course of our routine inspections, when the ITAs have
become fully operational.
ITAs are also planned for Melbourne and Adelaide. The
ITA in Melbourne will accommodate up to 30 people and construction is due to be
completed by the end of 2007.
Alternative detention (ALTDET) includes people detained
in private houses, hospitals, motels, correctional facilities, watch houses,
apartments and foster care. Detainees in alternative detention must be
supervised by a ‘designated person’. DIAC statistics show that there
were 21 people (16 men, four women and one child) in alternative detention as at
26 October 2007.
During the 2007 inspections, Commission staff visited 12
Indonesian juveniles and one minder/adult detainee in alternative detention in
Darwin. They are held at a Darwin motel during their short period of detention
(see section below on Children).
In June 2005, the Act was amended to give the Minister
the power to make a ‘residence determination’ for individual
detainees to be able to live in the community at specified locations.
As at 2 November 2007, 206 detainees have been granted
Often called ‘community detention’,
residence determination arrangements were primarily conceived to remove children
and families from the inappropriate detention environment. However, residence
determinations can also be made for individual adults.
The Commission visited five people subject to residence
determinations (three families with children and two individuals), and one
unaccompanied minor who had been recently subject to a residence determination.
The Commission also spoke to DIAC staff about the arrangements under residence
conditions under residence determinations
Detainees on residence determination are permitted to
live unsupervised in the community. However, detainees are required to abide by
a standard set of conditions. Generally they must live at a specified address
and report to DIAC regularly. They cannot engage in paid work. These conditions
may be modified by the Minister in each individual instance.
The Australian Red Cross (ARC) are contracted by DIAC to
provide primary community and welfare support for people on residence
determinations. This includes accommodation, schooling for children, child care
arrangements, access to health care and linking them to English classes.
rents apartments or houses for detainees on behalf of DIAC. ARC attempts to
situate the detainees in locations which are familiar or close to community
contacts. While it is not easy to find the right accommodation, all detainees we
spoke to seemed reasonably satisfied with their placement.
ARC also provides detainees with
a living allowance, which is transferred automatically into a bank account for
the detainee to access as needed. The detainees pay for basic living expenses
such as food, electricity and phone bills, out of their living allowance.
Detainees reported that the living allowance was satisfactory, although it was
not sufficient for bigger purchases such as televisions. Most detainees had
these bigger items donated by the ARC or friends.
ARC also assists detainees with any of the basic
essentials they may need, such as furniture and kitchen equipment.
Detainees were satisfied with
their access to physical and mental health services. Detainees do not have
access to Medicare. However, their medical expenses are paid for by ARC. In one
case ARC helped to arrange medical requirements necessary for the birth of a
child. In another case, ARC arranged for counselling.
of residence determinations
In general, detainees on residence determinations we
spoke to were happy with their living arrangements. They also reported that ARC
staff were helpful and looked after their
we spoke to said that residence determinations were significantly better than
being detained in IDCs or IRHs. Most important was the opportunity to engage in
community life, the ability to provide a normal living environment for their
children, and the privacy and freedom from supervision.
Children in particular benefit from the freedom of
community detention. They are able to attend school and engage in community life
along with their parents. Although it appears that children, like their parents,
cannot travel and cannot have other children stay at their houses without DIAC
permission, in most other respects they are able to lead a normal
The Commission believes that if a person must remain in
detention, then residence determinations are the best of the alternative
detention arrangements. This is because residence determinations offer freedom
to engage in the community and provide relative autonomy to the individuals in
The Commission reiterates the comments we made about residence
determinations in the 2006 summary of observations. We urge DIAC to make greater
efforts to arrange residence determinations for all people who are detained for
three months or more. The only qualification to this recommendation may be where
the person is a demonstrated high security or public health
concerns raised by detainees on residence determination
Despite the general satisfaction among detainees we
spoke to with the conditions of residence determinations, there were some common
- Several detainees said they would like to be able to work
to support the family themselves, and to be able to engage in meaningful
activities. Detainees who are already trained wish to utilise their skills.
- Several detainees also expressed a desire to study for a
qualification in order to prepare for the future. At present detainees on
residence determinations can attend English classes and community education
classes, but are not permitted to study for a qualification. Considering some
detainees have been on residence determinations for several years, it would be a
valuable use of time to study for a qualification, or a module leading to a
qualification, while awaiting a decision on their applications.
- Despite general satisfaction with the conditions under
residence determination, detainees expressed anxiety and depression about their
uncertain future, especially parents. This caused sleeplessness. In several
cases individuals were accessing mental health services.
The Commission recommends that the Minister or DIAC
have discretion to vary the conditions of residence determinations so that
detainees can engage in meaningful activities such as further education and
training leading to occupational qualifications, and work, if
criteria for residence determinations
The eligibility criteria for referral to the Minister
for residence determinations are specified under draft Guidelines on the
Minister’s Detention Intervention Powers (Sections 197AB and 195A of the
Act). The Commission commented on a draft of these Guidelines in March 2006. The Draft
Guidelines are still awaiting finalisation. In the meantime, the Draft
Guidelines guide DIAC’s assessment of individual cases for referral to the
The Draft Guidelines specify circumstances which a
detainee may be referred to the Minister for residence determination. These
- minor children and their families
- unaccompanied minors
- an adult with special needs that cannot be cared for in
- an adult with unique and exceptional circumstances such
that failure to recognise them would result in hardship and harm to an
Australian citizen or Australian family unit
- torture and trauma background.
However, the majority of people who have
received residence determinations have been families with children and
unaccompanied minors. As at 31 October 2007, there were 48 people living in the
community on residence determinations, of which 21 were children with their
families and five were unaccompanied minors.
Smaller numbers of single adults have been referred for
residence determination for special needs, torture and trauma issues or
During the visits, the Commission met many adult detainees who
would benefit greatly from a residence determination. In some cases this may
have helped prevent an escalation of mental health problems.
Given that the public interest principle is guiding the
exercise of the Minister’s discretion in these cases, the Commission thinks that
these criteria unduly restrict the ability of DIAC to refer adults for residence
determination. It is unclear why the circumstances for the exercise of the
discretion need to be ‘unique’ or ‘exceptional
Since the Commission’s visits in 2006, DIAC has trialled a
Client Placement Model throughout immigration detention.
The Client Placement Model allows detainees to be
assessed at entry point, and throughout their detention, for placement in an
appropriate detention setting. That is, whether to place them in a particular
detention centre, an ITA, an IRH, alternative detention or refer them for
residence determination. The initial placement form includes questions on a
range of factors such as mental and physical health, community support,
immigration pathway, criminal background and family contacts. These are taken
into account in assessing the risk of each detainee and the appropriate
placement. Client placement also takes into account operational
At VIDC we were told that an initial detainee placement
should be reviewed within 48 hours. Following this initial assessment there is
also review within a week, and then quarterly unless there is a
‘trigger’. A ‘trigger’ can come from a variety of
sources; for example, the detainee, GSL, detention officers or health services.
We were informed that placements or transfers do not
happen against a detainee’s wish unless the placement is a result of
security concerns or when a detainee is moved from the community into the IDC.
At VIDC we were also told that there has been no general
education of detainees about the Client Placement Model because it is still in
However, the Commission observed that some detainees were unaware
of the various client placement options.
The Commission urges DIAC to ensure that DIAC case managers
actively explore and discuss with each detainee the various alternative
detention arrangements available to them (including residence determinations,
alternative detention in the community and immigration residential
Although in trial stage, staff informed the Commission that the
Client Placement Model works well and ensures that a range of factors are
considered in the placement of a detainee, and in reviews of detainee
The Commission expects to have an opportunity to examine the
Client Placement Model more closely when it is fully operational.
Following amendments to the Act in 2005, families and
children were released from immigration detention facilities, either on bridging
visas or on residence determinations. The Commission welcomed these amendments, which
have allowed most families with children in detention to be accommodated within
However, it should be noted that children and their
families are still detained in the IRHs and in alternative detention for varying
periods of time. Further, children and families on residence determinations are
still in immigration detention as defined under the Act, and must meet any
conditions of their particular residence determination. The power to make a
residence determination for a child and their family lies with the Minister
10.1 Length of time in IRHs
The Commission spoke to several families with children who had
been in detention in an IRH. While in some cases there appears to have been
speedy action to release a child into community detention, or onto a visa, there
are still cases where a child may spend several months in detention in an IRH.
For example, in one case a family with a small child,
who had previously been living in the community without visas, was detained in
an IRH for two months before they were given a residence determination. The
father told us that he had been concerned about the effect of the detention on
his daughter, who was distressed at being surrounded by strangers. His wife was
The Commission recommends that children should only be
detained in IRHs for a maximum period of four weeks. Unaccompanied children
should only be detained in an IRH for a maximum period of two weeks.
of juveniles at the Northern Immigration Detention Centre
In our 2006 summary of observations we noted problems
with the detention arrangements in Darwin for Indonesian juveniles found on
illegal fishing boats.
These problems included:
- exposure to the adult detention centre environment at the
- lack of child welfare qualifications of carers or
- lack of education or recreational activities for
We recommended a number of
changes to accommodate these children better during their period of detention in
We are pleased to report that many of these
recommendations appear to have been implemented by the time of our visit on 8-9
At the time of our 2006 visit, juveniles were
accommodated at a Darwin motel at night time, but otherwise spent all their
meals and waking hours inside the detention centre without any special programs
The Commission recommended that DIAC establish alternative places
of detention for the juveniles, in the community, and provide them with special
services. In 2007, DIAC continues to use a motel
for detaining juveniles found on illegal fishing boats. However, juvenile
detainees are now kept at the motel throughout the day as well as the night, and
are provided with special activities on and off-site. Nine motel rooms are
booked by DIAC on a permanent basis. The rooms are in a corner of the motel and
there is an outdoor area available for them all to sit. They have rearranged the
rooms so that there are four single beds to a motel room. Generally, juveniles
from the same crew stay in the same room together.
One of the motel rooms has been converted into a
recreation room with a TV, Xbox, games etc (ie no beds). A second motel room has
been converted into an officer’s station.
There is also a pool at the motel which they can use
All food is delivered from the NIDC and eaten at the
In 2006 we noted that there was no one on-site at the
NIDC with child welfare qualifications, which is of concern when a number of
juveniles arrive without parents or family members.
At that time we were told that juveniles were appointed
adult ‘minders’ amongst the detainees, based on relationships that
they already have with crew members on the fishing boat. These
‘minders’ were to stay with juveniles at a Darwin motel. However,
without an officer or staff member with special training in child welfare, we
were concerned about the proper safeguards for children to be cared for in the
However, since 2006, NIDC have made efforts to provide
appropriate supervision for the juveniles.
Firstly, as discussed above, juveniles are no longer
spending periods in the day at the detention centre.
Secondly, a Youth Officer with child welfare experience
and qualifications is employed at the motel five days a week (9am-5pm), and
occasionally on weekends, to arrange activities.
Further, NIDC have developed internal guidelines for
conducting a Minor and Minder Identity Interview (CS4.00: Minor and Minder
Identity Interview). This interview is to determine whether a
‘minder’ nominated by Customs is the appropriate person to continue
to be the minder of a minor while in detention at the motel.
The Commission hopes these guidelines assist NIDC appoint a
suitable ‘minder’ for a juvenile. However, the guidelines do not
make it clear who conducts the interviews of minders and minors. The Commission suggests
that those with child welfare or child psychology experience may be best
experienced to undertake these interviews.
The Commission also notes that there still does not appear to be
any coordination with the Northern Territory child welfare agency for
The Commission is pleased that since our last visit to the NIDC,
DIAC and GSL have organised a full activities schedule for the juveniles. The
young people can go out, voluntarily, at least once a day on some type of
excursion or activity. These are arranged for juveniles only. Each Wednesday the
excursions overlap with adult detainee activities, so as to provide
opportunities for young people to meet with other crew members outside the
External excursions include beach sports, beach walking,
Botanic Gardens, bush walking, city bus tours, Crocodylus Park, Indoor Soccer,
kite flying, mini golf, Museum and ten-pin bowling, among others.
Recreational activities on-site include art equipment,
board games, craft items, DVDs, playstations and playstation games and the use
of sports equipment. The Youth Officer has just obtained his Bronze Medallion,
which means that he can also supervise the juveniles in the motel swimming
DIAC informs us that the focus of activities at the
NIDC, including the motel, is on sports and recreational activities rather than
educational activities, as removal of Indonesian fisher people is sought as soon
The Commission recommends that, in the event that they are
detained for longer than three weeks, DIAC should arrange some educational
activities for juveniles detained at Darwin motels.
10.3 Care of unaccompanied minors
During our inspections, Commission staff spoke to one
unaccompanied minor in Sydney who had recently been released from community
detention onto a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV).
This juvenile was released into the community on a
residence determination within two weeks of his arrival, following two weeks
detained in an IRH.
The Commission commends DIAC for his quick release into community
However, we are concerned that at the time of our
meeting, the unaccompanied minor was unaware of any contact with state child
welfare agencies, either prior to his release, or following his release onto a
Temporary Protection Visa. This was of particular concern as he had decided to
move to WA with very limited English and few contacts in Perth. We later heard
that contact was made.
The Commission considers that there needs to be better
coordination and clarification of the roles and responsibilities of DIAC and
state child welfare authorities for unaccompanied minors in community or
alternative detention. The role of state welfare agencies needs to be clarified,
and communicated effectively to the minors and their advocates.
The Commission notes the existence of Memoranda of Understanding
(MOUs) with South Australian and Western Australian welfare agencies, covering
guardianship responsibilities for unaccompanied minors in detention. However, a
smaller number of unaccompanied minors have also been placed into alternative
detention in NSW, Victoria and NT. There do not seem to be any other completed
formalised arrangements for guardianship and care of unaccompanied minors in
other states. Further, the Commission is unsure whether residence determinations are
covered under the SA MOU, which was drafted prior to their introduction in 2005.
If children are unaccompanied, then DIAC should
co-ordinate with the child welfare agencies over the care arrangements for
unaccompanied minors in detention. Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) should
clarify the arrangements for the guardianship of unaccompanied minors. DIAC
should ensure contact between an unaccompanied minor and the State welfare
authority with responsibility for their welfare, whether in detention or
released on a visa.
Mental health services for detainees are provided by a
private company, Professional Support Services (PSS).
Overall, the provision of mental health services in
detention centres appears to have improved over the past few years.
In particular, mental health staff reported as
- The newly introduced system of routine mental health
assessments has greatly improved the capacity of mental health services to
identify and treat mental illness (although these are not conducted on detainees
at NIDC nor at Brisbane ITA to date).
- Mental health staff recommendations or referrals are
generally treated seriously by DIAC staff.
However, the problems of long term detention
continue to have an impact on the mental health of detainees. It is still not
possible to properly treat the mental health problems suffered by most
immigration detainees. This is because the main way to treat a mental health
concern is to remove the primary cause of the problem. In the case of
immigration detainees, detention and uncertainty are amongst the main causes and
they cannot usually be addressed by the mental health
It is for this reason that the Commission recommends the
repeal of Australia’s mandatory detention laws. The Commission has made this
recommendation, and proposed alternative models, in its previous report on
visits, and in various inquiries into immigration
While detention may be acceptable for a short period
in order to conduct security, identity and health checks, currently mandatory
detention laws require detention for more than these purposes, for unlimited
periods of time and in the absence of independent review of the need to
The Commission believes that any decision to detain a person
should be under the prompt scrutiny of the judicial system. Further, there
should be outer limits on the periods for which immigration detention is
permitted. In the absence of repealing
mandatory detention, there should be greater efforts to promptly (within three
months) release or transfer people out of detention centres by:
- resolving substantive visa
- releasing detainees on bridging or removal pending
- transferring detainees to residence
- transferring detainees to places of alternative
detention (in the event that (a) – (c) cannot be
There are also some specific concerns related to mental
health care outlined in the following sections.
The SASH system, which we discussed in our 2006
observations, is still in operation at all the centres in 2007. The SASH system
provides a close monitoring mechanism for people at risk of self-harm or
Under the SASH system, those detainees at great risk are
observed by detention officers constantly while those at less risk are monitored
less closely. The detention officers on ‘SASH-watch’ must fill out
log sheets which report their observations of the detainees at specific time
periods. Those logs are used by mental health teams to assess the need for
therapeutic intervention. The mental health services also train detention
officers in how to conduct SASH observations.
While the method of implementing SASH observations
– especially for high risk detainees – differs by centre, in general
those who are deemed in need of constant observation (maintaining visual contact
with the detainee) are transferred into observation rooms or specialised units
for that purpose. The ‘observation’ areas differ by
At MIDC, there are two private observation rooms in Zone
C, with access to a private courtyard and a small day room, so that detainees
can move out of the rooms. We were told that the rooms have been used about six
times in the past 12 months, for management purposes as well as for constant
At PIDC, there are three rooms that can operate as
observation rooms. One is a ‘hard’ observation room with less risk
of self-harm, and another two are with softer furnishings. One of these softer
observation rooms is adjacent to, and can be viewed from the medical offices. We
were told that only two detainees had been placed in the observation rooms in
the past nine months.
At NIDC, people on constant SASH observation are kept in
a separate smaller compound where detainees can walk around freely but are
observed by cameras. The rooms are furnished without hanging points. We were
told that the last time this compound was used for SASH was in April 2007.
At VIDC, detainees in need of constant observation are
held in the four observation rooms in Stage 1. There are no observation rooms in
Stage 2 or 3, which means that detainees must be moved to Stage 1 for constant
The Commission is concerned with this practice of transferring
detainees to Stage 1 for observation. We were told that as Stage 1 is a
completely separate and secure facility, where ‘high risk’ detainees
are held, detainees view the move as punitive. This may discourage referrals for
SASH among detainees and staff.
Furthermore, the medical staff are situated in Stage
2/3, and are therefore not able to supervise observation in Stage 1 as closely.
It also means that officers who are not familiar with a detainee’s usual
presentation are conducting the SASH observations.
The Commission reiterates its comments made at the time of the
2006 visit: Stage 1, VIDC, is not an appropriate place to put detainees with
serious mental health risk.
DIAC should not send detainees from Stages 2 or 3
(VIDC), to the Stage 1 SASH observation rooms. Wherever possible, SASH
observations should take place in the detainee’s immediate environments
and close to medical staff.
We were also informed that the SASH Protocol is
currently under review, as recommended by the Detention Health Advisory Group.
DIAC has contracted Monash University Forensic Care to conduct the review, which
is expected to be completed by December 2007.
The Commission awaits the results of this review with
11.2 Mental health referrals
In general, mental health staff reported that their
referrals to external mental health facilities and services are taken seriously
by DIAC. For example, two detainees from MIDC were referred to a mental health
hospital in Toowong, Queensland on the recommendation of mental health staff. On
the other hand, several detainees told the Commission that they been waiting for an
extended period of time for a referral to be acted on.
The Commission urges DIAC centre executives to continue to treat
seriously recommendations and referrals by both internal and external mental
health practitioners. We also urge that referrals for mental health assessment
and treatment to be acted on as quickly as possible.
Physical health services at all immigration detention
centres are contracted out to International Health Medical Services (IHMS). All
of the detention centres have a IHMS nurse on-site Monday-Friday, with on-site
access to GPs at certain clinic times. Hence, detainees appear able to see a
nurse on the day that they have a complaint, but may have to wait several days
to see a doctor unless it is an emergency. For emergencies, detainees are taken
to external hospitals.
Detainees are taken by detention service officers to see
external specialists, for example dentists, optometrists and
The Commission heard some complaints from detainees about delays
in accessing external specialist health services. For example, a detainee told
us he had been waiting for an eye operation for months. The Commission acknowledges that
detainees may have to wait for non-urgent medical appointments, as do others in
the community. However, as detainees do not have the ability to seek out their
own medical services, delays can be especially frustrating. Detainees also told
the Commission that they wanted to know what stage their request was up to.
Since the introduction of Detention Health, a
centralised unit within DIAC for dealing with health issues in detention, there
appears to be better coordination of the approval process for specialist medical
services for detainees. However, some detainees still seemed unsure of the
reason for the delay in accessing specialist medical services in their case.
In the case of PIRH and SIRH, all health services are
provided by external physicians. It appears that this process operates smoothly.
However, detainees may still experience delays in getting approval for referrals
to a specialist facility.
The Commission recommends that DIAC should update detainees
regularly as to the status of any requests for specialist treatment and any
reasons why a referral has or has not been approved.
DIAC should ensure prompt responses to
recommendations made by doctors, especially where there are recommendations for
In 2006, the Commission congratulated DIAC and GSL for improving
their recreational programs, with the exception of NIDC.
In 2007, we are pleased to find noticeable improvements
at the NIDC, and some improvements in terms of internal activities and
infrastructure at other centres.
However, we are greatly disappointed that external
excursions programs have been extensively cut back in specific centres due to
security concerns, where these activities had been successfully developed over
the previous year.
The opportunity to experience activities in the general
community is very important for the mental health and general well-being of
detainees, especially those who may be detained for long periods of
The Commission has commended the gradual introduction of
excursions in all centres over the past several years.
In addition to group excursions, several centres
introduced individual excursions in 2006. These excursions entail a specific
site-visit for individuals in detention, for example in order to visit a sick
family member or attend a family event, under GSL guard and supervision. These
were utilised in 2006-07 by MIDC and VIDC.
However, in July 2007 DIAC introduced new procedures to
consider requests for excursions and to organise and conduct such excursions.
The Commission was told that some detainees had earlier escaped from detention while on
an individual excursion.
The new procedures required each detainee to
individually request permission from DIAC to participate in an excursion. After
another escape by a high risk detainee, all excursions were suspended pending
the introduction of new procedures.
Revised procedures state that excursions by high risk
detainees are approved only in exceptional circumstances. It appears that
detainees whose visas have been cancelled under s501 of the Act (usually those
with a criminal record) are automatically determined to be a high flight risk.
This means that they have been refused permission to participate in individual
and group excursions.
In addition to the new DIAC procedures, GSL has issued a
new directive which specifies a greater ratio of staff to detainees on
excursions. Due to the new GSL and DIAC procedures, activities officers find
that they must plan in advance more than previously.
In addition to the effect on high risk detainees, the
new procedures seem to have impacted on the excursions programs for the general
detainee population at several centres, resulting in a reduction, or a
suspension, of excursions.
The Commission detected confusion and concern among detainees
over the new procedures. Several detainees told us that they did not understand
why excursions had stopped, or that they were confused as to why they had been
prohibited from participating when others are able to go.
13.1.1 Maribyrnong and Perth
Prior to the introduction of the new procedures, both
MIDC and PIDC had developed substantial excursions programs.
At MIDC, detainee excursions have included visits to the
zoo, aquarium and the beach. MIDC has also been open to requests from detainees
for particular group excursions.
However, several detainees informed us that the
excursions program was suspended a few months prior to our visit, evidently due
to the introduction of the new procedures.
Detainees with high risk assessments are now unable to
participate in excursions unless there are exceptional circumstances. During
2007, two detainees – both s501 visa cancellations – had been going
on excursions to visit family. These visits stopped with the introduction of the
new procedures. However, at the time of our visit, MIDC were making a request
for a detainee to continue visiting his 15 year old son on the basis of
In response to our comments about detainee confusion and
concern, MIDC has since distributed a factsheet to some detainees regarding
excursions. They have also been trying to facilitate visits to MIDC of families
of high risk detainees.
At PIDC the excursions program was expanding in variety
and frequency, until the recently introduced new procedures. According to the
PIDC excursions program, external excursions were available every day, depending
on the number of detainees who wished to participate. Excursions until recently
have included picnics in Kings Park, sport, fishing, Fremantle and maritime
Unfortunately, since an escape from detention, and the
introduction of the new procedures, the excursions have been limited to visits
to the library and to the local gym (which includes a swimming pool) for one
hour, and visits to the Church of Christ services, Hindu temple and the Mosque.
However, high risk clients are prohibited even from these visits. This affected
the two s501 detainees at PIDC at the time of our visit, although PIDC was in
the process of requesting permission for one detainee to continue accessing
external visits due to exceptional circumstances.
Detainees at PIDC have never been permitted home visits.
Instead, family members were invited along on external excursions, for example
picnics in Kings Park. However, these have not been arranged since the new
As a result of these changes, the activities officers at
PIDC have been trying to improve the availability of in-house activities.
Detainees at the PIRH are able to participate in
excursions. These do not seem to have been suspended during the change in
procedures. These activities include shopping visits, visits to the gym and
swimming pool, walks to Redcliffe Park and on Saturday they usually see a movie.
Detainees can also attend a church two nights a week and a trip to a mosque each
In our 2006 summary of observations, the Commission noted that
VIDC did not cater for the same level of external activities as other centres.
This was disappointing as it has the highest detainee population and houses most
of the long term detainees.
Since this visit, and up until recently, VIDC had begun
to conduct a few more excursions. For example, last summer GSL organised
swimming trips and bowling, which were available for all Stages of VIDC. VIDC
had also permitted a number of individual home visits for individual detainees
with family ties.
However, following several escapes, excursions from VIDC
were suspended pending the introduction of new procedures. At the time of our
visit, a request for a bowling excursion by GSL had yet to be
Further, excursions from the SIRH were suspended for
several weeks at the time of our visit. Detainees in SIRH are usually able to
participate in shopping trips, external English classes and a range of external
activities (such as a BBQ at Bundeena). They are also entitled to request
excursions, for example, to the library.
The suspension of excursions had a significant impact on
detainees at the SIRH. There are a limited number of internal activities offered
at the SIRH itself and detainees cannot access the internal activities program
offered in the adjoining VIDC, such as the library or gym. This was causing
anger and distress among SIRH detainees, who felt that they were being punished
for the acts of high risk detainees.
This situation was resolved shortly after our visit,
when external excursions for detainees in the SIRH were re-instated.
The suspension of excursions was also causing some
distress among detainees in the VIDC at the time of our visit. For example, in
one case, a man was informed that his girlfriend had been injured in a car
accident but his request to visit her in hospital was refused. For several days
the man in question threatened to kill himself. Others also joined him in
protesting at the cancellation of visits to family.
DIAC should continue a regular and varied excursions
program for all detainees, including those in IRHs. Detainees on s501 visa
cancellations should not be automatically barred from participating in
Immigration Detention Centre
In our previous summary of observations, we noted that
NIDC did not have a dedicated activities officer and had very limited
We are pleased that the NIDC in 2007 has greatly
improved the program of external activities.
A dedicated Activities officer has been appointed at the
NIDC. A Youth Officer for juveniles has also been appointed.
All staff, including health and mental health staff,
commented on the positive impact of increased excursions. Detainees were
happier, as were staff. There were fewer presentations to the health and mental
health clinics and fewer outbursts of frustration by detainees. This translated
into fewer costs for repairs and security.
At the time of our visit, detainees could go out of the
centre at least once a week and usually more often if they want to. Visits take
place to the beach, indoor soccer and volleyball games, Botanic gardens, museum,
bush walking and off-site BBQs, among others. Off site activities are offered
daily for minors, with some joint activities being organised with adults so they
can spend time with their minder and crew (see above).
While the new excursions procedure has impacted on other
centres, it has had limited impact at the NIDC. We were told that it has been a
very rare occasion that a person has been denied access to an excursion because
of a risk assessment – their preferred approach is to put on an extra
officer to supervise a person.
In addition to external excursions, it is important to
develop activities within the centres, to help detainees pass the day. The Commission
noted that all centres made some efforts to improve these activities. Given the
suspension of some external activities, internal activities become even more
Perth and Villawood
All centres employ dedicated activities officers to
arrange structured programs internally. We were told that the programs are
discussed with detainees, who offer suggestions.
All three centres have a range of structured activities
- sporting competitions (soccer, football, volleyball,
table tennis, badminton)
- pool competitions
- games nights (board games)
- movie nights
- music/disco nights
- social BBQs.
Some centres have extra organised activities
such as art classes and art activities (VIDC – Stage 2/3 and MIDC)) and
yoga, craft and cooking classes (MIDC).
Special events are also organised from time to time,
which are opportunities to include people from the external community. For
example, VIDC informed us it was organising a ‘Big Day In’ with DIAC
staff, GSL staff and detainees from each Stage, as well as friends, family and
community groups. The planned activities included an inter-stage soccer game.
notes that infrastructure can limit the possibilities for sporting activities.
For example, although detainees are often interested in soccer games, at PIDC
and MIDC soccer games are not organised. PIDC is a small centre. Both its
outdoor areas are smaller paved areas, unsuitable for soccer or football games.
At MIDC, there is a larger outdoor area which could accommodate soccer games.
However, the area set aside for such activities is covered with a hard surface.
It is also not a full sized soccer pitch.
The Commission commends VIDC for its recently completed soccer
field in Stage 3 where detainees can participate in regular soccer games.
However, it is unclear how regularly Stage 1 detainees participate in these
games. The inter-Stage soccer game mentioned above is the first inter-stage
event held at VIDC. Stage 1 has two outdoor areas, but neither one is suitable
for a soccer game. Detainees in Stage 1 complained to the Commission about playing soccer
in a tiny area, with fixed outdoor furniture obstructing the game.
In contrast, NIDC has organised regular soccer games for
detainees at an external site – the East Timorese Club.
The Commission recommends that PIDC and MIDC investigate the
possibility of holding external soccer games for detainees who wish to
participate. The Commission also recommends that VIDC permits Stage 1 detainees to
regularly utilise the Stage 3 soccer field.
have also been improvements in access to gyms, which are popular with some
detainees, both men and women.
MIDC has several gym areas with new equipment throughout
the centre. However, as some of these are not enclosed (for example, the gym in
the women’s area is situated in the courtyard), detainees may be
discouraged from using them. MIDC has plans to enclose the gym
Similarly, the gym area in PIDC has a small range of new
equipment. However, as it is open to the outside, and visible from the second
outdoor area, usage may be discouraged. Refurbishment plans at PIDC will improve
this. On the other hand, detainees (with the exception of high risk detainees)
are able to visit an external gym on most days of the week.
The newly completed gym at Stage 3 VIDC is large and
well-equipped. It also opens out onto a café area where detainees can
socialise and make themselves tea and coffee. Outside heaters are provided for
VIDC is to be congratulated for introducing this gym and
recreation area, which is reportedly well-used. The gym is closed during lunch
and dinner and is available to detainees from Stages 2 and 3 at different times
of the day. The gym is available to women only from 1pm – 2pm. However,
the gym is not open to Stage 1. In contrast, Stage 1 gym equipment is limited
and the areas are exposed.
The Commission encourages further upgrades of gym facilities
in Stage 1 VIDC and PIDC. They should be enclosed to ensure privacy, and
accessibility in winter months.
Immigration Detention Centre
There has been an improvement in structured activities
offered by NIDC since the Commission’s last visit in 2006.
As mentioned above, a dedicated activities officer has
been appointed. There is an external and internal activities program which is
devised in consultation with detainees.
Internal activities include arts and crafts, badminton,
volleyball, Bingo and board games, gym, karaoke and gardening. Indonesian
Independence Day was celebrated with a day of events and activities and an
There is an outdoor area with an undercover concrete
table tennis table, sand/beach volley ball court, open area and a Christian
prayer room at the back. The original intention was that there be a soccer
field at the back but the land is not level and floods during the rainy season.
Detainees are now taken outside the centre to use the old field of the East
Timorese club to play soccer.
There is also brand new gym equipment which can be used
any time that staff are on duty. Otherwise people can use the pool table, table
tennis, XBox and air hockey table. Guitars are also available.
The Commission is pleased to see an improvement in the
activities offered to detainees at NIDC.
computers, newspapers, books and other unstructured recreation
TV and DVD
centres and the IRHs have access to communal televisions and DVDs throughout the
facilities. DVDs are rented from video libraries, or provided by
At PIDC there are large plasma television screens with
Foxtel and DVDs in the recreation room and the Multi-purpose room. There is also
a TV and DVD in Area 2 Recreation Room (where women are housed separately). The
centre rents DVDs from the Video Ezy. Currently, if a detainee is low risk it is
possible to visit the shop to choose a DVD.
At MIDC, there are a number of TVs and DVDs throughout
the centre in each recreation room, and in the family rooms. GSL Officers have a
set of DVDs which detainees can borrow.
VIDC has TVs in each of the Stages. In Stage 1, there
are two rooms dedicated to TVs. One room, with six chairs, was in use by a group
of detainees at the time of the visit. The second room, with DVD player, is
uninviting, with a series of chairs bolted to the floor. Detainees request DVDs
from a collection held by GSL officers. In Stage 2, there is also a dedicated TV
room, with five plastic chairs, although this is for free to air TV only. In
Stage 2/3 recreation area there is a separate room with a flat screen TV and DVD
player on the wall, fixed chairs and a locked cupboard which contains the DVDs.
Access to the DVDs is on request.
Each of the living areas in the PIRH and SIRH has their
own TVs and DVD players. Detainees can rent DVDs themselves.
NIDC North Compound has Indonesian satellite TV and free
to air TV. South Compound receives free to air TV. There are DVD players in the
compounds with Indonesian movies available.
All the centres, with the exception of
NIDC, now provide detainees with access to computers and the internet. These are
also planned for NIDC as part of a general roll out of internet at all
Use of the internet includes email access. Pornography
and sex sites are blocked, as are sites for purchasing goods.
In all centres, the use of the internet is governed by
Smart cards, which are given out to each detainee. The amount of access on each
card varies by centre.
At PIDC, there are three computers, all with internet
access, situated in the education room. The education room is always open. Each
detainee automatically gets two hours of internet access every four hours on
their card, and can even buy more with PAS points. The internet is very popular
and well-used. However, the only problem is the location in the education room,
which is also used for English classes. This means one activity interferes with
the other. As part of its planned refurbishments, PIDC intends to create a
dedicated education room.
The PIRH had two computers with internet access in the
common area. DIAC were considering moving these into each of the residences for
greater privacy and access.
At MIDC, detainees have full internet access at several
computers in the Centre: in the Visitors centre, women’s recreation room,
men’s recreation rooms and education rooms. Upon arrival, detainees are
also given a USB stick and headphones. Smart cards give them an hour of internet
access a day, with no limits on when they can use it. They can print off for
At VIDC, computers and internet are available in the
recreational centre of Stage 2/3 and in Stage 1 recreational room. In the Stage
2/3 recreational area, there is a dedicated room for internet access with four
computer terminals. In Stage One, there are four computers in a room adjacent to
the television room. However, not all the computers have internet access. Each
detainee at VIDC is given a ‘Global Gossip’ internet card with a pin
number, entitling them to one hour of internet time per day (although they can
apply for extra hours). Detainees are also provided with USBs. When they leave
the centre their ‘Global Gossip’ card is cancelled. GSL at VIDC
informed us that the number of internet terminals in VIDC will be increased to
SIRH had four computers in the education room accessible
to all detainees, but did not yet have the internet installed. Detainees raised
with us the lack of internet access. We were informed that this was to take
The Commission commends DIAC for the roll-out of the internet
facilities in immigration detention. Access to the internet and email provides
detainees with opportunities for entertainment, access to essential information
and effective communication with the outside world.
The Commission encourages DIAC to continue to expand access to
computers and internet facilities, including at NIDC and SIRH.
All centres provide some foreign
language newspapers. Internet access has also improved access to foreign
At PIDC, external excursions include visits to the local
library. The local library also allows book lending through the internet. There
are a variety of books in other languages. There are very few books in the
centre, or in the education room, although there are bookshelves in the new
At MIDC, a local librarian visits with a box of books,
about 8-10 books in different languages. The librarian also tries to accommodate
requests. When the library visits, there is an opportunity to share coffee and
At VIDC, there is a small library situated in Stage 2,
in a separate demountable. The room is locked at all times and is only open on
request. There is a small collection of Mandarin books and a few Korean books
but most books appeared to be old fiction, in English. There is no chair in the
room and it is not an inviting reading environment.
In Stage 1, VIDC, a bookshelf in one of the television
rooms had some old English books and magazines. Otherwise, it is unclear what
provision is made for accessing reading materials besides
At NIDC, Indonesian newspapers were available at the
officer’s station. There is no library but they are working on getting
excursions to the local library. Staff going to Indonesia on holidays are asked
to bring back books and DVDs.
The Commission recommends that VIDC explore options for
detainee to access books. Options include
- visits to a local library
- visits by a local librarian
- internet lending.
our 2006 summary of observations, we raised the lack of Indonesian-English
dictionaries at NIDC. In our 2007 visits, we were told that these dictionaries
have been supplied.
VIDC, detainees in Stage 2 and 3 can maintain gardens and grow vegetables. They
are provided with seeds and gardening equipment. NIDC also provides detainees
with opportunities to garden.
Many detainees complain of boredom, despite improvements
in internal activities programs. Long term detainees in particular wish to do
something constructive with their time in detention. However, according to DIAC
policy, they are unable to engage in study leading to
All centres run limited education programs, mostly
English classes. While this is an entirely appropriate class to offer, it may
not be appropriate for some detainees. This is the case with a number of visa
overstayers and s501 cancellations who are from English-speaking
Some centres run a few computer classes. At PIDC,
several online computer classes are supervised by the English
At VIDC, computer classes are open to all detainees in
Stages 2 and 3 in a dedicated computer room, with 11 computers. GSL provide
certificates to detainees if they complete computer levels. For example, if
they complete an excel level. However, these are not formally
MIDC and VIDC have also held volunteer-run art and music
classes. However, these are activities rather than an accredited educational
At MIDC, the Education Officer told us that if detainees
are interested in a more advanced education program than the classes being
offered, she will put together a basic program. In the past, she has put
together basic programs on English literature and Literacy and Numeracy.
The Commission also notes that the provision of English classes
seems to vary across the centres. For example, NIDC does not offer English
classes at all, to either juveniles or adults.
Detainees told us that the English classes at the PIRH
are not as regular and extensive as they would like. PIDC later informed us that
the quality and consistency of the English classes in PIRH has been reviewed and
has since been improved.
The Commission reiterates its recommendation from 2006 as
DIAC should cease the policy which prohibits
detainees from enrolling in courses leading to a qualification. DIAC should
allow long-term detainees to enrol in substantive education courses at TAFE and
other institutions, irrespective of whether it leads to a qualification.
Enrolment could be by correspondence. However, DIAC should also consider
permitting detainees to attend certain classes in person.
Mobile phones can be used in all centres. This does not
seem to have caused any problems for DIAC or GSL but has greatly improved
detainee access to the outside world. Detainees can pay for mobile phone cards
using the Purchasing Allowance Scheme (PAS) (see below). There are also pay
phones or card-phones in all centres.
At VIDC, we were told that since detainees have been
permitted to use mobile phones, the Telstra pay phones are underutilised. As a
result Telstra wants to remove some of the phones. However, detainees need the
pay phones to make international phone calls with phone cards.
PAS is still in operation at all the centres. Under PAS,
detainees can purchase items like phone cards, chocolates, packet noodles, soft
drinks and cigarettes using ‘points’ accrued during their time in
All detainees receive a set number of points per week
(25 points – equivalent to about $25). Detainees can accrue extra PAS
points per hour for participating in programs and activities. These activities
include the structured activities program, such as English classes or sports
competitions, and excursions. Detainees cannot accumulate more than 200 PAS
points. They also cannot cash out their points upon departure.
In the 2006 summary of observations, the Commission recommended
that DIAC permit the accumulation of points from month to month beyond 200 PAS
points. There does not seem to be any reason to limit the accumulation of points
as long as detainees understand that those points can not be cashed out on
departure from detention.
However, the maximum number of points in centres is
still 200 points, despite this recommendation.
The Commission recommends that DIAC remove the cap on the
number of points that can be earned in any month under PAS.
The Commission also recommends that DIAC consider a lay-by
system for long term detainees so that detainees can buy larger items more
At all immigration detention centres there were mixed
reports about food. Food is a common cause of complaints among detainees as,
over long periods of time, it becomes increasingly frustrating to have limited
control over choice of food or food quality.
The Commission commends DIAC and GSL for the regular detainee
committee meetings which are held in all centres, where detainees can give
feedback on food provided. DNCA (the private company contracted to cater in the
detention centres), GSL and DIAC attend these meetings.
The Commission visited all kitchens and dining facilities in the
centres, and ate, at least once, lunch with the detainees.
In general, the Commission found that all centres had made
efforts to improve the quality and variety of food provided. Menus are rotated
three-weekly or monthly and there are genuine attempts to cater for the
different needs of detainee groups. For example, in centres where there are a
number of Indian or Sri Lankan detainees, centres attempt to provide rice and
curries with appropriate spices. All the kitchens are halal
However, a few detainees we spoke to made complaints
about the monotony of food, a lack of cultural appropriateness, the quality and
difficulties of having special needs and diets met. In particular, almost all
detainees we spoke to at MIDC complained about the quality of food at the
centre, saying that it was bland and monotonous. MIDC later informed us that a
new three week menu was subsequently drawn up which mirrored the current
detainee cultural make-up better.
At VIDC, the kitchen and main dining room is situated in
Stage 2. This is well-attended and the food is of reasonable quality and
variety. However, the food is taken to Stage 1 and distributed from hot boxes at
a very drab and dark dining room (which no one appears to eat in, preferring to
take their food away).
Centres have attempted to allow detainees more autonomy
in cooking. All centres have coffee, tea, and drinks and snacks available in
kitchenettes or the dining rooms. Some of the kitchenettes also have rice
cookers, woks, and microwaves, and there are opportunities for detainees to buy
food. At MIDC, for example, GSL officers go shopping every Wednesday and will
purchase food on a detainee’s behalf. Occasionally detainees are taken on
The Commission encourages this development. Although there are
implications for hygiene, self-catering opportunities encourage autonomy and
reduce frustrations with the prepared food. However, this is not possible for
all meals. Further, not everyone wishes to, or is able to, cook for
In addition, all centres have initiated BBQs, once or
twice a week, where the detainees can cook their own food on BBQs with
ingredients supplied by DNCA. In PIDC they have included food cooked on woks,
and separate BBQs for pork for Chinese detainees. At VIDC Stage 2, new BBQs have
been installed for this purpose.
The Commission recommends that DIAC explore alternative means
of providing greater variety of meals, and autonomy in food choice. Some
possibilities include activities kitchens (which were successful in Baxter IDC),
cooking classes, special food nights and occasional take-away
The only centre which employs on-site interpreters on an
ongoing basis is NIDC. At NIDC there are two Indonesian interpreters available
to the NIDC at all times. As the detainee population is almost entirely Bahasa
Indonesian speaking, this is a cost-effective way of ensuring communication
between the detainees and the detention service providers. NIDC also uses the
Telephone Interpreting Service (TIS).
However, all other centres use TIS almost exclusively:
although VIDC did inform us that at times they have contracted face to face
interpreters for particular occasions.
While DIAC and GSL staff felt that TIS is adequate for
basic communication, there are times when TIS is inadequate for dealing with
complex issues. Face to face interpreters minimise misunderstandings that can
arise using the phone. Also, for health and mental health appointments, there
are times when phone interpreting is inappropriate.
Further, a reliance on TIS restricts communication
between DIAC and GSL staff and detainees on a daily basis, such as answering
requests and general rapport-building while wandering around the
The Commission acknowledges that where there is a mix of
different language groups among detainees, it is not cost-effective to employ
on-site interpreters at all centres. However, where there is a large body of
detainees from one language group, who are having difficulty with the English
language, DIAC and GSL should consider employing an on-site interpreter, or
contract an on-site interpreter on a regular basis. This may be the case in
VIDC, where the largest group of detainees at the time of our stay is
The Commission also heard from some detainees that important
documents were provided in English. One detainee said that she had been unable
to understand the contents of a letter to her from DIAC, and was too inhibited
with her English to ask for assistance. Although she had been assisted by a
fellow detainee previously, she had since been moved to another area of the
The Commission recommends that DIAC should, where possible,
ensure the availability of permanent onsite interpreters when there is a large
detainee population from a single language group. This is particularly relevant
to VIDC with a large population of Mandarin-speaking detainees.
The Commission also emphasises that all official documents,
including documents and notices about the operation of the centres, should be
provided in the main languages of the detainee population. Detainees should also
be able to request assistance with translation of documents.
The Commission has always provided posters to DIAC which set out
how a detainee can make a complaint about possible human rights abuses occurring
inside detention centres.
At the time of our visit, all centres had Commission
immigration detention complaints posters in communal areas. However, the Commission notes
that these were not always in the two language versions provided by the Commission.
The Commission gave additional copies of the Commission posters to all
managers, asking them to ensure that both versions are displayed throughout the
Commission posters should be posted clearly in all
communal areas within detention facilities (including the visitors area), in
both language versions provided by the Commission.
In our 2006 summary, we reported that the NIDC required
the most improvements of all the centres we visited.
However, in 2007 we are pleased that many of the issues
we raised have been addressed by DIAC and GSL, so that NIDC has a greatly
improved environment. We note that NIDC devised a plan for implementing
the Commission’s previous recommendations specifically.
Some of these improvements have already been addressed
in the previous sections of this report. They include:
- Juveniles are now detained day and night at separate
facilities to the adults (in a Darwin motel).
- A Youth Activities Officer is employed full-time for the
juveniles and there is a dedicated activities officer/operations coordinator for
adults in the NIDC.
- Child-appropriate activities are provided for
- There is a good program of external and internal
activities for juveniles and adults.
- The ensuite bathrooms have been reopened.
- Indonesian newspapers are provided.
- Commission posters are prominently displayed.
- Four pay phones have been installed.
- An on-site Bahasa Indonesia interpreter has been employed
38 hours a week.
The Commission commends the NIDC for responding to
our recommendations and improving the facilities for detainees.
Other issues specific to NIDC, which we raised on our
- Warning signs on fence: It would be helpful to
have warning signs on the electric fences of the NIDC in Indonesian.
- Detainee information: Detainees need to be
informed of the progress of their cases on a very regular basis. This seems to
be a point of tension in the centre.
- Mental health care: The hours of mental health
care assistance for detainees need to be flexible. Small numbers of detainees
does not necessarily mean fewer mental health care needs.
The Commission also notes that NIDC does not have a
medical observation room where unwell detainees can rest, unlike other
immigration detention facilities. We suggest that this would be a useful
addition to the infrastructure.
Villawood holds the largest number of detainees of all
the centres. It also has a large number of long-term detainees with
ever-worsening mental health problems. Further, as Stage 1 Villawood is the
largest and most secure facility, detainees who are perceived as difficult to
manage seem to be placed in Villawood. This adds to an overall atmosphere at
Villawood as security-driven and tense, compared to the atmosphere at the
In particular, Stage 1 has the strong appearance of a
prison. It is run-down, especially the dormitories, and the atmosphere is harsh
and inhospitable. Commission staff were shocked by the dilapidated infrastructure of
Villawood Stage 1 compared to other centres and facilities we visited. Of
particular note are:
- the bleak visitors facilities
- the dining room, without windows or natural light or
- dormitory 1, which is dark, depressing and lacks
- external areas, which do not have enough greenery or
The Commission repeats the recommendation we made in
last year’s summary:
The Commission strongly recommends that Stage 1, VIDC, be
demolished and replaced with a new facility as a matter of priority.
In such an atmosphere, any change in the provision of
services has a magnified impact on detainees. The suspension of individual and
group excursions at all facilities, had an adverse impact on the mental health
of detainees and risked becoming a very serious issue for the running of the
centre. The suspension of activities in SIRH also seemed to add unnecessarily to
the distress of detainees in that facility.
The Commission recognises that DIAC and GSL have a more difficult
task meeting both security priorities and detainee service requirements.
However, it is detrimental to the overall mental health of the detainee
population to treat all detainees as if they are high risk.
VIDC staff have made some attempts to provide detainees
with internal activities to substitute for the limited availability of
excursions. There have also been some good developments in Stage 2 and 3,
including a new soccer field, gym and outdoor café area, the introduction
of the internet. However, these mostly benefit detainees in Stage 2 and 3, and
not Stage 1.
Considering the size of VIDC and the number of long term
detainees, VIDC should be leading the way in terms of external and internal
programs and infrastructure. This is not the case.
The SIRH, on the other hand, provides a significantly
more friendly detention environment for detainees. However, despite the fact
that SIRH is not full to capacity, there are a large number of long term
detainees in VIDC who would benefit from a less harsh environment, yet do not
seem to be transferred to the SIRH.
Other issues specific to VIDC, which we raised on our
- SASH observation rooms: Detainees from Stage 2 and
3 who are on SASH observation should not be transferred to Stage 1 Observation,
as it is situated far from the medical centre and Stage 1 is perceived by
detainees as punitive.
- Internal activities in the SIRH: At the time of
our visit some detainees in the IRH were restricted from excursions. When
excursions are suspended, there is very little for SIRH detainees to do. There
needs to be some internal activities organised in these cases, for example
access to Stage 2 gym, or English classes.
- Interpreters: As there are a large number of
Chinese-speaking detainees, it would be beneficial to have a Mandarin speaking
interpreter on-site. This would be particularly useful in health services. In
addition, all official communications with detainees should be
- Food: In Stage 1 some detainees perceive the food
as not halal. There is a need to reassure them that it is halal, perhaps with a
visit to the kitchen and storage area as has occurred in Stage 2/3. There are
also complaints that food requests are not acted on, even for people with
- Religious practice: A detainee told us that some
detention officers made negative comments about detainee religious practice. It
may be beneficial for officer training to include particular emphasis on respect
for religious belief and practice.
During our last visit, we commented that MIDC appears to
be the ‘pilot’ detention centre for several programs. This continues
to be the case.
During 2006-2007, MIDC has undertaken extensive
renovations. Stages 1 and 2 of the renovations have been completed with good
results. Stage 1 involved construction of a new administration area, medical
wing and a dormitory. The razor wire was also taken down. Stage 2 involved
refurbishing the old areas to standards of the new areas. The final Stage 3 is
to be completed by the end of 2007 and is mainly concerned with beautifying the
centre and external courtyards.
In general, the renovations make the centre more
friendly and relaxed. Although a small centre, the renovations provide detainees
with a number of different spaces to find some privacy or engage in different
activities. It is also less crowded than before. Of particular note is the
variety of smaller outside courtyards, which MIDC has attempted to beautify, and
which provide light and outlook to the internal spaces. The visitor’s
facilities are comfortable and provide visitors and detainees with television
and internet access (the only downside being a lack of external space for
families). There are plans to make a corner child-friendly.
MIDC is also to be congratulated for the availability of
computers with internet access throughout the centre.
The Commission also notes that management and staff appear to be
open and responsive to suggestions on how to further enhance the services within
The Commission is, however, disappointed by the impact of the new
excursions procedures. We noted previously that the introduction of home visits
at MIDC was of great benefit to the mental well-being of those long-term
detainees with family and friends in the community, particularly those who would
otherwise be isolated from these personal contacts. The Commission encourages MIDC to
continue excursions where possible. The Commission notes that since the change in
procedure, MIDC recommended that a s501 detainee should continue his visits
under exceptional circumstances.
Some other issues specific to MIDC, which we raised on
our visit, include:
- Food: Detainee complaints about the quality and
variety of food appear to be greater at MIDC than at other detention centres. We
suggested that takeaway food should be allowed occasionally, an activities
kitchen be created and there be an increase in the number of cooking classes and
BBQs. MIDC has made some attempts to ameliorate this problem: since our visit
DIAC informed us that a new three week menu was drawn up after consultation with
the detainee consultative committee, with changes that mirrored the current
- Change table for parents: There is no change
table or parents’ room in the visitors’ area, despite many families
visiting detainees. MIDC are examining ways to rectify this.
- Broken window in Zone A: Some detainees complained
that the window in Zone A took a week to be replaced and in that time it was not
- Tennis court/soccer field: The outdoor area
created for sporting activities does not seem suitable for soccer.
- Alterations to Zone C: Zone C, where the SASH
observation rooms are situated, should be altered so that the transit rooms and
observation rooms are separated but both have better access to the courtyard
- Vinyl mattresses: The vinyl mattresses
uncomfortable and hot. This has been rectified since our
PIDC is a small, cramped centre which is not equipped to
house detainees for long periods of time. Despite these limitations, the Commission notes
that management and staff have continued to make efforts to improve the
facilities and services, and to remain open to suggestions from detainees and
others about such improvements.
Similar to MIDC, PIDC has also been undergoing
renovations and refurbishments since our last visit in 2006. So far, the
refurbishments have included soundproofing the interview rooms, making some
bedrooms more comfortable and fitting out a multi-purpose room with carpet, soft
furnishings, comfortable couches, a flat screen TV and a stereo system.
DIAC discussed with us the future renovation plans in
some detail, which include building a second storey. The Commission hopes that many of
the problems with the infrastructure in PIDC will be resolved by the planned
renovations, in January 2008.
These current problems include:
- The two outside areas are generally shabby and
claustrophobic. There is no greenery, poor ground covering and it is not
conducive to outdoors activities.
- Area 1 bathrooms are shabby and dark.
- The dormitory accommodation is drab and seems darker than
it needs to be.
- The outlook from the Dining Room could be
- There is no Visitors area. It is not appropriate for
visiting families to have to meet in the detainee common areas.
- The education area is cramped – English classes are
conducted while other detainees are on the computers or trying to access the
internet. PIDC needs a dedicated education area.
The Commission is concerned that the future
renovations, which are quite extensive, may have a significant impact on both
detainees and staff. The renovation process to date has already been difficult
The Commission recommends that renovations at PIDC take place
promptly. The centre should be closed temporarily while renovations are taking
place. Detainees should be transferred to alternative arrangements and be fully
informed of the process in advance.
Since the Commission’s last visit to Perth, the PIRH was
opened in March 2007. The Commission found that the PIRH is well-equipped and physically
pleasant, situated in a suburban street, with a large garden and the appearance
of a normal set of residences.
The Commission congratulates DIAC for the construction of the
PIRH. It is a significantly better environment than the PIDC. The Commission’s only
complaint about the PIRH is that it appears under utilised. At the time of our
visit, only four people were detained in the facility, two in each house. The
low numbers can partly be explained by the low numbers in total at PIDC (at the
time of our visit there were only 14 detainees at the PIDC) and partly by the
fact that three detainees had just been transferred back to PIDC pending
removal. However, the Commission understands that not all detainees in the PIDC have been
assessed as high risk, and therefore should be considered for the
Other issues specific to PIDC, which we raised on our
- Excursions: At the time of the last visit, PIDC
was introducing an interesting external activities program. However, at the time
of our visit and since the new excursions procedures, activities seemed to be
limited to gym and library. The Commission is greatly disappointed that the new
procedures have limited the range of excursions for detainees and urges
reinstatement of a full excursion program.
Following our visit, PIDC informed the Commission that
a new activities program has been approved in order to expand the quality and
variety of internal and external activities.
- Internal activities: Some detainees raised with us
their wish to engage in more meaningful activities and structured classes, for
example more advanced and structured on-line computer classes.
- IRH ESL classes: Some detainees complained about
the quality and consistency of ESL teaching at the IRH. PIDC later informed us
that the English classes at the PIRH has since been reviewed and
 See for example, Report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration
Detention, A last resort?, (2004); Report of an inquiry into the
detention of unauthorised arrivals, Those who’ve come across the
 See for example, Report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration
Detention, A last resort?, (2004); Report of an inquiry into the
detention of unauthorised arrivals, Those who’ve come across the