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Overview of Australia's immigration detention network
This chapter provides an outline of Australia's Immigration Detention
Network. A brief history of the network is provided, followed by a snapshot of
the network today, and summaries of recent inquiries into the management of the
Background to mandatory detention
While it is beyond the scope of this inquiry to provide a substantial and
detailed history of Australia's immigration detention policy, a brief
background is provided here in order to provide context for the discussion
later in the chapter. 
Prior to the introduction of mandatory detention, unauthorised arrivals
were detained on a discretionary basis, as provided for under the Migration
Act 1958. Up until 1989 immigration detention was used mostly for
compliance cases – that is, for people who had breached the terms of a valid
visa and were awaiting deportation.
In 1989 the Australian Government introduced administrative detention
for all people entering Australia without a valid visa and people who
subsequently became unlawful.
The Migration Legislation Amendment Act 1989 contained significant changes,
mandatory deportation of unlawful non-citizens after a grace
period of 28 days;
costs of detention and deportation becoming a debt to the
increased penalties for becoming an illegal entrant—from a
maximum fine of $1000 and/or up to six months imprisonment, to a maximum fine
of $5000 and/or up to two years imprisonment; and
increased bail for illegal entrants, from $2000 to $20 000.
The new provisions applied to all unlawful non-citizens and were
intended to help facilitate the processing of refugee claims, assist
humanitarian programs and reduce the cost of locating people in the community.
The focus was on preventing people who arrive without a valid visa from
entering the Australian community until their identity and status had been
established. The Act allowed persons entering without a valid visa to be
detained and potentially deported. Legislation originally imposed a 273 day
limit on detention, but was amended in 1994 to remove this limit, allowing for
As it currently stands, the Migration Act requires people who are not Australian
citizens and who are in Australia unlawfully to be detained. Unless a visa is
granted, unlawful non-citizens must be removed from Australia as soon as
Section 273 of the Migration Act gives the Minister for Immigration the power
to establish and maintain IDCs, and to make regulations for their operation.
People who are not Australian citizens are 'unlawful' if they do not
have a valid visa giving them permission to be in Australia. Usually, 'unlawful
non-citizens' are people who have arrived in Australia without a visa, overstayed
their visa, or had their visa cancelled.
Ever since 2001 a distinction has been made between people who are
processed offshore and those who are processed on the Australian mainland.
Arrivals are treated as either Offshore Entry Persons (OEPs)—otherwise known as
Irregular Maritime Arrivals (IMAs)—or they are processed as non-OEPs. The terms
IMA and OEP refer to people who have been intercepted outside of Australia's
migration zone at an excised offshore place.
Current government policy is that all IMAs are mandatorily detained for
identity, health and character checks while their claims to stay in Australia
In contrast, unlawful non-citizens who arrive by plane to Australia are
generally given bridging visas which permit them to live, and sometimes work,
in the community.
Processing arrangements for both OEPs and non-OEPs in detention are detailed in
In 2011, the processing of IMAs underwent its first significant change
since the introduction of the Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration
Zone) Act 2001. Precipitating this change was the Minister's declaration
that Malaysia was a country to which asylum seekers who entered Australia at
Christmas Island could be taken for processing. On 31 August 2011 the High
Court ruled that the Minister's declaration was invalid under the Migration
Following this ruling, and due in part to overcrowding in detention
facilities, the Australian Government announced an expansion of the community
detention program and a move to allow suitable OEPs to be placed on bridging
That avenue had previously been used predominantly for processing non-OEPs.
A number of significant reforms have been made to the policy and
conditions of mandatory detention since 2005. As a matter of policy, though not
always practice, children are not detained in immigration detention centres.
Detention of children
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) stated in 1988
that the detention of children was a breach of international and Australian
human rights standards. The report also called for children and other
vulnerable people to only be detained in exceptional circumstances. HREOC
stated in 2004 that the mandatory detention of unauthorised arrivals who are
children is inconsistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
HREOC's findings and recommendations were initially rejected by the
Howard Government, which reaffirmed its commitment to mandatory detention of
all unauthorised arrivals, including children. In 2005, however, the Howard
Government announced a number of changes to immigration policy, including
community detention, which resulted in some families with children being released
into community detention.
The Palmer and Comrie Reports
The Palmer and Comrie Reports published in 2005 drew to public attention
systemic problems within DIAC. The reports were the result of inquiries into
the wrongful detention of an Australian citizen and a permanent Australian resident,
and, in one case, wrongful deportation.
The Palmer Report, published in July 2005, was an inquiry by
Mr Mick Palmer into the circumstances in which a permanent resident,
Ms Cornelia Rau, was held in detention as a suspected unlawful non-citizen.
Mr Palmer’s recommendations included the need to improve training,
arrangements with State and Territory Governments (over, for example, the use
of correctional services centres, police powers, etc), alternatives to
detention, the need to develop identity techniques, mental health arrangements,
the environment of immigration detention, data management, record keeping, and
problems in DIAC State Offices (including Queensland, NSW and South Australia).
Mr Palmer also dealt with the issues which contributed to a malaise
in DIAC, and to an apparent deafness to concerns voiced repeatedly by a wide
range of stakeholders. Mr Palmer identified a culture within DIAC that ignored
criticism, was too defensive, bureaucratic and unwilling to make improvements.
The Comrie Report, published in September 2005, resulted from an inquiry
undertaken by Mr Neil Comrie on behalf of the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
Mr Comrie inquired into the circumstances in which an Australian
citizen, Ms Vivian Alvarez Solon, was detained and deported. The
Comrie Report supported a large number of the recommendations made by Mr Palmer.
It highlighted problems in the Queensland Office of DIAC, made recommendations
about the IT systems in the Department and focused on issues to do with the
mental health of detainees. The report agreed with Mr Palmer on issues of
culture within DIAC. It recommended that the cultural issues in the Queensland
Office (from where the two cases had originated) be addressed as a matter of
urgency, and that checks be made in all other offices to ensure that the problems
in the Queensland Office were not widespread.
Implementation of recommendations
in the Palmer and Comrie reports
Since 2005 DIAC has made significant efforts to implement the
recommendations made in the Palmer and Comrie reports. The Commonwealth Ombudsman
has also noted the efforts that DIAC has made to change policy and culture
The 2008 independent review of DIAC's implementation of the
recommendations found that the recommendations had been 'substantially
implemented'. Where implementation was incomplete, plans were in place to
Detention Health Framework 2007
The Detention Health Framework was released in November 2007 in
collaboration with the Detention Health Advisory Group (DeHAG). Its release was
seen by DIAC as the culmination of cultural change within the Department
following the systemic problems discussed above.
The Framework was developed at a time when the majority of people in
detention were not IMAs, but rather people with visa cancellations or people
who made asylum claims after entering Australia lawfully, usually by airplane.
As a consequence, it addressed a different detention cohort, with lower rates
of self harm, and who generally were not on a negative pathway.
Nonetheless, the Framework does discuss mental health and there have
been signs that DIAC is responding to the changing health needs of the detainee
The Department completed the roll-out of new mental health policies in November
2010. Key among these policies is the Psychological Support Program (PSP),
which is targeted at supporting detainees at risk of self harm or suicide.
DIAC is conducting a review of the implementation of these policies, and
expects to finalise this shortly.
In late 2011, DIAC advised that it had recently developed a revised
mental health awareness training program which had been piloted and now was
being rolled out to Serco, DIAC and IHMS staff.
Reforms in 2008 and 2010
Reforms to immigration detention policy were introduced by the Rudd Government
in 2008. The New Directions in Detention policy established seven key principals
of immigration detention policy:
1. Mandatory detention is
an essential component of strong border control.
2. To support the
integrity of Australia’s immigration program, three groups will be subject to
(a) all unauthorised
arrivals, for management of health, identity and security risks to the
non-citizens who present unacceptable risks to the community; and
non-citizens who have repeatedly refused to comply with their visa conditions.
3. Children, including
juvenile foreign fishers and, where possible, their families, will not be
detained in an immigration detention centre.
4. Detention that is
indefinite or otherwise arbitrary is not acceptable and the length and
conditions of detention, including the appropriateness of both the
accommodation and the services provided, would be subject to regular review.
5. Detention in
immigration detention centres is only to be used as a last resort and for the
shortest practicable time.
6. People in detention
will be treated fairly and reasonably within the law.
7. Conditions of
detention will ensure the inherent dignity of the human person. 
The reforms retained the original detention system, overlaid with an
increased emphasis on processing and releasing asylum seekers more quickly.
Asylum seekers who are irregular maritime arrivals are still subject to
mandatory detention but can now access legal advice to assist them to make
their initial claim, and apply for an independent review of adverse findings.
The current government's policy is that children who arrive without
valid visas will not be held in immigration detention centres. When necessary
for a variety of reasons (such as keeping family members together), children
are accommodated in low-security facilities.
These include immigration residential housing, transit accommodation and
community detention. The emphasis is on allowing children and their families to
move into the wider community as soon as practicable, with support from
non-governmental and state welfare agencies as necessary.
In 2010, the Department was still working towards implementing the
policy announcement made in 2008, and some children were still in restrictive
detention. In October 2010 the Gillard Government announced it was stepping up
efforts to move children out of immigration detention centres and into
Following the High Court's decision that impacted on the Malaysia
solution, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship
announced that more IMAs would be moved into community detention and placed on
On 25 November 2011 the Minister for Immigration, the Hon Chris Bowen
MP, announced that the first group of IMAs would shortly be placed on bridging
The Minister advised that he expected about 100 IMAs would be released each
month. People considered for a bridging visa will have passed identity,
security and character checks, and will be assessed as refugees or cooperating
with the removal process. Those released into the community will be subject to
reporting conditions. Breach of the conditions will result in cancellation of
the visa. Community detention and bridging visas are discussed in detail in
The rest of this chapter provides a snapshot of the immigration
detention network today.
Types of detention
The immigration detention network contains five types of detention
accommodation: immigration detention centres, alternative places of detention,
immigration residential housing, immigration transit accommodation and
Immigration Detention Centres
Immigration Detention Centres (IDCs) primarily accommodate individuals
with a higher risk profile. IDCs traditionally were designed to accommodate
people who had overstayed their visa, or breached their visa conditions and had
their visa cancelled, or been refused entry at Australia's entry ports. In recent
years IDCs have also been used to accommodate IMAs. 
IDCs are currently located at:
Villawood, New South Wales
Perth, Western Australia
Christmas Island, Indian Ocean
Northern, Northern Territory
Curtin, Western Australia
Yongah Hill (currently under construction in Western Australia)
Wickham Point, Northern Territory 
Immigration Residential Housing
In 2001 the then Minister for Immigration announced a pilot immigration
residential housing program. This program housed eligible families with
children in a more domestic and independent environment. It was assessed as a
success and implemented on a broader scale in the following years.
DIAC describes Immigration Residential Housing (IRH) as a 'less
institutional, more domestic and independent environment' for low risk detainees,
particularly families with children.
Families' eligibility for IRH is based on:
availability of IRH accommodation;
satisfactory completion of identity and health checks;
low flight risk;
any operational issues particular to the person in detention; and
any operational issues particular to the effective management of
Immigration residential housing is in three locations across Australia:
in Sydney adjacent to the Villawood IDC, in Perth near the Perth IDC and in
Port Augusta, South Australia.
Immigration Transit Accommodation
Immigration Transit Accommodation (ITA) was introduced for short-term,
low flight risk people and is located in Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide.
Generally, individuals with a low-risk risk profile on a removal pathway and
are expected to depart Australia shortly, are placed in ITA. 
ITA is hostel-style accommodation, with shared meals areas and semi-independent
living. Because of the short-stay nature of the detainee group, less support
services are provided than in IDCs.
Alternative Places of Detention
Alternative places of detention (APODs) are places that have been
specifically authorised for immigration detention that are not an IDC, IRH or
community detention. APODs generally accommodate people who present a minimal
risk to the Australian community. APODs include hospital accommodation in cases
of necessary medical treatment; schools for facilitating education to
school-aged children and rented accommodation in the community (hotel rooms,
APODs can also include accommodation in the community made available
through arrangements with other government departments or commercial
facilities, such as Defence Housing at Inverbrackie, South Australia and Darwin
Airport Lodge. Correctional facilities are also used as APODs where appropriate.
Residence Determination (Community
Residence determination, usually referred to as community detention, was
introduced in June 2005 and is a type of detention where people to reside
in the community without being formally monitored.
The determination can only be made by the Minister, and this ministerial power
is non-delegable and non-compellable, although detainees can make a request to
the Department to consider whether their case should be referred to the
Minister for placement in community detention.
Residence determination does not give a person any lawful status in
Australia, nor are they permitted to work or study. Detainees must agree to the
conditions of their residence determination arrangements. These conditions include
a mandatory requirement to report regularly to the Department or its contractor,
and to reside at the address specified by the Minister.
Expanded residence determination (community detention) arrangements for
unaccompanied minors and vulnerable families were announced by the Prime
Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship on 18 October 2010.
Following this announcement, between 18 October 2010 and 26 September 2011, a
total of 1981 individuals were approved for transfer into community detention, including
608 accompanied children and 305 unaccompanied minors. As at 26 September 2011
there were 1073 people in community detention and no children in IDCs.
The Prime Minister announced a likely further expansion in the use of
residence determination in 13 October 2011.
The Committee heard that the Australian Red Cross is the lead contracted
service provider for this program, supported by subcontracted nongovernment organisations.
The funding covers costs such as housing, residential/out-of-home care for
unaccompanied minors, case workers, an allowance to meet daily living costs and
a range of activities including recreational excursions.
Children in the program have access to schooling, including English
language classes. Health care is provided through the Department's contracted
detention health provider, International Health and Medical Services. The
community detention program is discussed in more detail in Chapter 7.
Expansion of the network from 2008
The significant increase in the number of IMAs in recent years has
required an expansion of Australia’s immigration detention network. This
included the development of facilities to accommodate IMAs on the mainland
after their initial reception and processing on Christmas Island, as well as an
expansion of residence determination to move children and vulnerable families
into community detention. The following discussion of the expansion of the
immigration detention network was provided to the Committee by DIAC.
In 2009 the increasing number of IMAs meant that the newly-built
facility at North West Point on Christmas Island quickly became full, which
meant other accommodation options were needed. Transfers to ITAs in Brisbane
and Melbourne began in November 2009, and then to Northern IDC in December 2009.
In March and April 2010 small numbers of IMAs were transferred to Villawood IDC
and Brisbane Virginia Palms APODs. The transfers were on a case-by-case basis
and determined on a number of factors, including vulnerability. As a result,
545 people were transferred to the mainland between 1 November 2009 and 9 April
In February 2010 the Minister announced measures to ease congestion at
the Christmas Island immigration facilities, including the transfer of IMAs in
the final stages of a positive pathway to the Northern Immigration Detention
Centre in Darwin, and the transfer of a group of unaccompanied minors to the
Port Augusta immigration facility.
On 18 April 2010 the government announced it would re-open the RAAF Base
Curtin to accommodate IMAs. On 1 June 2010 the government made a further
announcement that a site in Leonora, Western Australia, would be used to
temporarily house family groups of IMAs.
In September 2010 the Minister announced immigration detention
accommodation for families and unaccompanied minors in Melbourne, and for
single adult men in northern Queensland and in Western Australia. This
announcement intended that the:
Melbourne ITA (MITA) would be expanded for use by families and children
(The proposed expansion did not proceed because the subsequent decision to move
children and vulnerable families into the community meant this large expansion
was no longer needed. However, there was a smaller and temporary expansion of
MITA with the leasing of several demountable buildings).
Scherger Air Force Base (near Weipa in Queensland) would be
adapted to accommodate up to 300 single adult men.
Curtin Immigration Detention Centre would be expanded to
accommodate up to 1200 single adult men.
The Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship
announced on 18 October 2010 that the Australian Government would expand the
existing residence determination program and move most children and a
significant number of vulnerable families into community detention by the end
of June 2011. In addition, the government announced the commissioning of two
new detention facilities to house IMAs.
Yongah Hill (Northam) in Western Australia was originally
supposed to accommodate 1500 single men. In May 2011, the Minister announced
the facility would accommodate 600.
Inverbrackie in South Australia would accommodate family groups.
In response to continuing pressures on immigration detention
accommodation, the Minister announced an update on the government’s IMA
accommodation strategy on 3 March 2011.
This updated strategy involved the commissioning of more appropriate detention
accommodation, the expansion of some existing facilities, the decommissioning
of less suitable accommodation, and the expanded use of existing residence determination
powers for unaccompanied minors and vulnerable families.
The following mainland facilities were commissioned or expanded:
a new immigration detention centre at Wickham Point (35
kilometres south-east of Darwin);
expansion of the Darwin Airport Lodge by up to 435 places at
existing facilities adjacent to the current accommodation;
continued use of the facility at RAAF Base Scherger near Weipa in
Queensland for a further 12 months, until 2012.
In addition, the Minister announced, on 5 April 2011, the government’s
intention to lease a Defence facility to build a new IDC in Pontville near
Hobart to eventually accommodate 400 people. All of this increased
accommodation meant the government could close the Virginia Palms APOD in
Brisbane and the Asti Hotel APOD in Darwin by mid-2011, and reduce the proposed
capacity of the Yongah Hill Centre.
On 25 July 2011, the Minister announced that newly arriving IMAs would
be transferred to Malaysia, a course of action subsequently rendered unviable
by a decision of the High Court.
Decisions relating to detainee placement within the network
All detainees receive regular reviews by DIAC and periodic reviews by the
Commonwealth Ombudsman which include an assessment of the detainee's placement
within the network.
DIAC considers recommendations for detainee placement and weighs this against
the risks to the Australian community.
Cost of detention
The cost administering and operating detention facilities across the
network in the 2010-2011 financial year was $772.17 million.
The cost of community detention during the same period was $15.734 million.
It is difficult to assess the cost of held detention on a per capita
What is clear, though, is that overall the costs of held detention are much
higher than the costs incurred for community detention. The costs of held and
community detention are discussed in more detail in Chapter 7.
Detainees held in each location
On 31 January 2012 there were 4783 people accommodated in immigration
detention facilities. Of these,
3031 were in immigration detention centres
171 were in immigration residential housing or immigration
1581 were in alternative places of detention.
A further 1600 people were placed in community detention (under a
Residence Determination by the Minister).
The table on the following page provides a snapshot of the location of
detainees across the network.
Source: DIAC, Immigration Detention Statistics Summary,
31 January 2012
Length of detention
In its submission to the Committee, DIAC reported that the number of IMAs
who have spent more than 12 months in detention has increased significantly
since September 2010, going from virtually nil to nearly 2000 IMAs.
The explanation given for the rapid and dramatic increase was that:
Several factors have worked in combination to overburden
Australia’s immigration detention and asylum processing system. These include
the suspension of processing of Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum claims and the
increased number of people in detention on negative pathways.
DIAC advised the Committee that families and unaccompanied minors are
usually placed in community detention or in alternative places of detention
within 6 to 8 weeks of arriving on Christmas Island.
This is an improvement on previous time frames, which sometimes saw people
detained on Christmas Island for months.
Services provided in immigration detention facilities
A wide range of services are provided at each immigration detention
facility, these include access to:
active case management services;
private and official visitors;
legal and consular services;
external government and non-government oversight bodies;
educational programs, including English-language instruction;
cultural, recreational and sporting activities;
telephones, newspapers and television;
computers and the Internet;
culturally appropriate meals and snacks and unlimited access to
chilled water, tea, coffee, milk and sugar; and
incidental items for purchase.
The services provided by DIAC's contracted services providers, IHMS and
Serco, are discussed in more detail in Chapters 3 and 4.
Infrastructure establishment and maintenance
One of the key concerns of the Committee is the infrastructure challenge
faced by DIAC given the increase in the number of detainees in recent years and
the need to accommodate them in an appropriate manner. DIAC advised that it
strives to ensure that the infrastructure across the immigration detention network
is consistent with the government’s Detention Values announced in 2008 and
supports the flexible management of people in detention. A number of factors
present challenges to the existing infrastructure, including:
the need to rapidly upscale operations in response to sudden
increases in IMA numbers. This creates significant operational challenges,
particularly at facilities that are not purpose-built for use as an immigration
the remoteness of a number of immigration detention facilities;
an increase in regulatory requirements over the past decade that
increase the costs and time involved in setting up and running facilities.
These include laws related to environment, heritage, occupational health and
safety and planning laws; and
the limited availability of Commonwealth land that is appropriate
for the establishment of detention facilities.
As the Committee conducted site visits, particular concerns were raised
about Villawood IDC. This IDC has suffered considerable damage during the riots
and disturbances in April 2011, and now a lot of the amenity of the facility is
compromised because of construction upgrades. While the Committee appreciates
the need to improve the facility, it recognises the adverse impact that the
construction phase can have on detainees and staff.
The Villawood IDC was described by the Department as not fit for
purpose, and the subject of:
...wide ranging criticism, including from the Red Cross, the Commonwealth
Ombudsman and the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). The AHRC, in particular,
has raised concerns about infrastructure and facilities at VIDC in each of its
annual inspection reports from 1999 onwards, noting that the centre has
However, the Department also noted the Government's provision of $186.7
million in the 2009–10 Budget to redevelop the centre to provide better
amenities and improved privacy for people in detention, while also providing
appropriate security at the facility.
Other facilities visited by the Committee which elicited particular
concern included Curtin IDC and Northern IDC.
Location of detention facilities
The Committee appreciates the difficulties faced by DIAC in identifying
locations at which to establish detention facilities, some of which are
outlined above, and are discussed also in Chapter 5. The Department explained
the factors that it considers when selecting future sites as follows:
[T]here is not a formal set of criteria, but there are a
number of factors which we take into consideration. We certainly look firstly
at whether there is available Commonwealth property, whether through the
Department of Defence or through the Commonwealth Land Register managed by the
Department of Finance and Deregulation. We also look at the suitability or the
availability of accommodation, including for the department and for service
provider staff, and obviously the access to utilities—power, water, sewerage,
telecommunications and transport services—or that the required services could
be brought up to speed quickly and efficiently. We consider already established
infrastructure on the potential site. In the case of Scherger, for example,
there were already buildings on site that could be used for accommodation.
There is also consideration of whether there is an existing site already
established in the area, consideration of the impact on the local community,
the environmental impact and any heritage issues.
For future feasibility assessments for possible centres we
are looking at issues of how quickly can the site be established, what capacity
can be supported by the site, what support is available from the state or local
government, what sort of people could be accommodated at the site, can the
local community support the facility and whether the service provider is able
to adequately offer services.
However, despite these considerations, the Department advised the Committee
that the main criteria considered when identifying sites for IDCs was
availability of land, and/or ready-made accommodation facilities. For this
reason Defence sites in remote areas were often selected as they could be used
almost without delay. For example, Scherger IDC, located outside Weipa in
Queensland, was selected for this reason:
[T]he key point about Scherger was that it was available, and
the things that influenced its availability were the fact that it was a defence
site; it was easily able to be signed up, in a sense, or an MOU developed; and
there was existing defence infrastructure that we could draw upon, which meant
that we were looking in remote locations. Many people have told us that the
remote locations are not optimum for us.
DIAC acknowledged that from a health and security perspective remote
facilities are not ideal. DIAC stressed that when they have more time to select
sites, then more appropriate sites in metropolitan areas can be developed:
[W]hen we have more time we can look at facilities that are
closer to urban centres and we can take more time in establishing the services
there. The sites that we have got opening up now—most recently in Pontville,
and now in Wickham Point and Yongah Hill in northern locations—are much closer
to urban centres where services, including security services as well as health
services, are available.
There can be little doubt of the extra challenges brought about by
maintaining multiple detention facilities in remote or very remote locations.
In addition to the obvious costs of building infrastructure in such places, the
transport of detainees, staff, large quantities of food and other supplies are
very much more expensive than they would be in metropolitan areas. The
challenges presented by remote facilities are revisited throughout this report.
The issue is not just remoteness, but also whether a facility has been
purpose built. For example, DIAC told the Committee that it would prefer to use
Wickham Point over Northern IDC, Darwin. The Secretary of the Department
explained how he would prefer to use NIDC:
[We] believe that Northern, which was initially and primarily
developed as a place for Indonesian fishermen, is not an appropriate facility
for long-term asylum seeker detentions, particularly of failed asylum seekers.
It is our strong desire to reduce the population there by using other
facilities such as Wickham Point which are more fit for purpose. But I do not
think we see any ability at this stage to close Northern altogether; rather, we
will try to reduce the population and make the stays there for a shorter period
DIAC's contract with Serco outlines a Philosophy of Security Services. Security
at detention facilities is managed cooperatively between Serco, DIAC's Regional
Manager and the Health Services Manager to provide integrated and effective
services. The contract has a number of provisions that require Serco to ensure
that immigration detention facilities provide a safe and secure environment for
all people within. Serco is required to prepare a security risk assessment for
each facility, and for each person in detention. Visitors to detention centres
The Detention Services Manual for each detention facility provides that
reasonable force or restraint can only be used against a detainee as a last
resort. Strict criteria set out the limited circumstances where reasonable
force or restraint can be used, and identify other strategies that must be used
Local police and the AFP also attend detention centres from time to
time. This may be to respond to violent disturbances, but also to investigate
criminal matters referred by Serco.
The local police and the AFP still have powers to act in detention facilities,
even though Serco is responsible for general management.
A detailed discussion of the roles of the Police, Serco and DIAC during major
incidents is contained in Chapter 8.
DIAC officers are required under work health and safety law to report
all incidents that they are involved in or witness. During 2010–2011, DIAC
received 11 workers' compensation claims relating to irregular maritime
DIAC must notify Comcare of serious incidents that occur in immigration
detention facilities. This includes DIAC staff, but also Serco staff and people
in detention. During 2010–2011 DIAC made 171 notifications to Comcare. The
majority of these related to attempted or actual self harm and major
disturbances in the facilities.
Comcare's assessment of safety in detention facilities is discussed further in
Serco is required to report and respond, in the first instance, to all
incidents in immigration detention centres. Reporting must be done initially
verbally to DIAC, and this is followed up by making a written record in DIAC
computer systems. Serco is also required to maintain its own Incident
IHMS advised that it has established protocols to respond to incidents
in detention facilities. This includes proper communication and cooperation and
the withdrawal of staff where necessary.
All detainees are provided with an initial health assessment when first
entering immigration detention, including a physical examination and mental
health screening. The Committee was told that detainees receive appropriate
health care, commensurate with the level of care available to the broader community.
People in facility-based detention are generally provided with primary
health care services onsite, with referrals made to external providers as
required. IHMS is charged with provision of both the initial health assessment
and the onsite primary and mental health medical services, as well as the
coordination of referrals and treatment management where detainees have ongoing
medical treatment needs, or acute needs.
Where detainees reside in community detention or immigration residential
housing, they are generally provided with health care by community-based health
providers. Upon discharge from detention, persons are provided with a discharge
health assessment, which informs future health providers of the detainee’s relevant
health history, treatment received, and ongoing treatment regimes.
Medical services are discussed in detail in Chapter 4.
IMAs who claim asylum are provided with legal assistance through the
Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme (IAAAS) during the Refugee
Status Assessment (RSA) and the Internal Merit Review (IMR) processes. This
also applies to the new processing arrangements, that are discussed in Chapter
The High Court held in November 2010 that asylum seekers who have
arrived in excised off shore locations are entitled to procedural fairness and
may seek judicial review of adverse decisions regarding refugee status.
If an IMA receives a negative IMR assessment the Department provides
information that sets out their judicial review rights. IMAs at this point can
seek assistance from state and territory legal aid services or advocacy groups,
the Department does not directly fund any further legal assistance. The Committee
notes advice to the Department from Professor John McMillan, former
Commonwealth Ombudsman, that it would be premature to announce a new legal
assistance, advice or recommendation scheme for the RSA or IMR processes, or
for judicial review but that the situation regarding legal assistance for
judicial review should be reviewed regularly.
As a result of evidence gained during a visit to Curtin IDC in May the Australian
Human Rights Commission has criticised the Department for failing to provide
detainees with full information about review rights. The Department has
responded by improving the fact sheet that is provided to detainees.
Education for children
Education for school aged children is the responsibility of DIAC, who
the Committee heard aim to ensure that all school aged children receive education
in accordance with community standards and relevant state or territory laws.
Children who are accommodated in APODs receive schooling either locally
in the community or in detention through arrangements made by Serco. Children
living in community detention are enrolled in government or non-government
schools, selected on the basis of how close the school is to the child's home,
and the availability of English as a Second Language classes (ESL).
The Department has made arrangements with State and Territory
governments and non-government providers, and pay for the services provided.
With the expansion of Community Detention it is anticipated that many
agreements will need to be renegotiated.
The Department has not always provided full enrolment of students when
it is clear that the students will only be staying in the area for a short
period of time. For example, at Leonora APOD which accommodates UAMs for 6 week
periods while community detention arrangements are made, DIAC has not
traditionally provided schooling. At Port Augusta, Serco has provided an
English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for school aged children, and the SA
Education Department has been providing some educational material to that
Serco provides education for children who are not enrolled in school,
including for children who are not yet old enough to enrol. Serco is
responsible for providing education and recreation activities within detention
centres, however, DIAC is responsible for arranging education of school age detainees
with the local state and territory authorities.
Where DIAC encounters difficulties in negotiating student spaces – as it did in
Port Augusta – students can be left without schooling for months. Serco
explained how it saw its obligations under the contract:
As far as Serco are concerned, we can try to provide programs
and activities. The policy and provision of education is a separate issue which
is managed by the department.
As a result, a number of students were not attending school and were only
receiving training from a Serco provided ESL teacher. In the Committee's view,
this reflects poorly on DIAC, and reinforces how important it is that DIAC
effectively manage its relationships with local state and territory providers.
Education and activities for adults
Serco is required to provide education and recreational activities for
adult detainees and children who are not enrolled in school: at a minimum, one
activity in the morning and one in the afternoon.
The Department and Serco have acknowledged that increased numbers of detainees
has put pressure on Serco's ability to provide adequate activities within the
Visitors and community engagement
As provided for in the Immigration Detention Values, detainees must have
access to visitors.
DIAC's website outlines the process that must be followed in order to visit a
person in immigration detention.
Immigration detention facilities are by their nature closed facilities.
However, members of the public are able to visit people in detention by special
arrangement. A prospective visitor will need to provide the following
information on a template form available on the Department's website, at least
24 hours before the intended visit:
Personal details of the visitor;
Name of the detainee and location;
Purpose of visit (legal, personal, other); and
Proposed time (that must be within standard visiting hours).
Approval is at the discretion of the Serco Centre Manager and DIAC. Once
a visitor arrives, he or she must pass through a security check point (similar
to the security process at an airport) and will usually have limited access to
the facility. This might include access to a visits area, such as the purpose
built building in Villawood IDC, or it might be limited to picnic style tables
in the open air (such as Inverbrackie). Lawyers may have access to interview
rooms, if they are available.
The Committee received evidence from advocacy groups such as Darwin
Asylum Seekers and Advocacy Network and members of the public that raised
concerns about the difficulty in arranging visits to people in immigration
detention facilities. 
External review and oversight
The immigration detention network is the subject of regular external
review and oversight by government integrity agencies such as the Australian
Human Rights Commissioner and the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Non-government
organisations such as Amnesty International, the Australian Red Cross and the
United Nations High Commission for Refugees also report on the network. From
time to time, usually following a crisis in the network, the Department has
commissioned independent reviews. The organisations discussed in this section
are referred to throughout this report.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman conducts inspections of immigration detention
centres, reports on the condition of people held in immigration detention, and
investigates complaints about the administrative actions of DIAC. 
The Commonwealth Ombudsman’s program of inspection visits to immigration
detention centres, including Christmas Island, and other places of immigration
detention, aims to:
monitor the conditions and services provided to detainees;
assess whether those services comply with the immigration values
and obligations of DIAC and the contracted service provider;
monitor the non-statutory refugee status assessment process (for
detainees who have arrived in an excised territory such as Christmas Island,
and claim asylum);
deal with complaints from detainees; and
interview detainees who have been detained for more than six
Reporting on people held in
Under the Migration Act 1958 (Migration Act), the Ombudsman is
required to review the cases of people held in immigration detention for two
years or more.
Section 486N of the Migration Act requires DIAC to provide a report to
the Ombudsman within 21 days of a person having been in detention for two
years. If the person remains in detention, DIAC must provide fresh reports to
the Ombudsman at six-monthly intervals.
The Ombudsman provides the Immigration Minister with an assessment of
the appropriateness of the person’s detention arrangements under section 486O
of the Act.
In practice, DIAC and the Ombudsman have agreed that DIAC will provide a
report to the Ombudsman every six months while a person is detained. The
Ombudsman will then report back to the Secretary of DIAC on the appropriateness
of the person’s detention arrangements.
The six-month review process runs parallel to the statutory process,
whereupon the Ombudsman reports to the Minister on detentions of more than two
years. In practical terms, it provides faster feedback from the Ombudsman to
DIAC and more frequent external scrutiny of individual detention cases. Once a
person has been detained for two years, they become subject to the statutory
reporting regime outlined above.
The Ombudsman can decide to investigate complaints made by people in
detention about administrative action taken by DIAC or its contractors. The
Ombudsman may also investigate other administrative matters, whether or not a
complaint is received.
Recent public reports
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has periodically raised concerns about
overcrowding in detention centres, delays in processing applications and the
remoteness of detention facilities. The former Commonwealth Ombudsman has
expressed concern that the detention values are not being consistently complied
with. While acknowledging that the detention network and processing have been
put under considerable strain with the increase of IMAs, the Commonwealth
Ombudsman called for detention practices to be reviewed by DIAC to ensure they
are in line with the detention values.
Australian Human Rights Commission
The Australian Human Rights Commission has conducted national inquiries
and annual inspections focusing on the treatment of detainees in immigration
detention in Australia, in particular, asylum seekers. The reports of these
inquiries and inspections make recommendations to the Australian Government
aimed at protecting the human rights of asylum seekers in immigration detention.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has visited many immigration
detention facilities across the network and has prepared detailed reports that
identify human rights concerns, and also documents areas where DIAC's
performance has improved over time.
Human Rights Commission has
expressed serious concerns about the length of time many people spend in
immigration detention, and the impact of this on their mental health. The
Commission is alarmed at high rates of self harm across the detention network
and draws particular attention to:
delays in processing claims for asylum;
delays in finalising ASIO security assessments;
detention of long-term residents whose visas have been cancelled
under section 501 of the Migration Act 1958; and
detention of people who have received adverse security
assessments and those who are found not to be owed protection but are stateless
or cannot be returned to their country of origin.
The Commission has
urged the government to find "durable solutions" for individuals who
are in indefinite detention and to release people from detention as soon as
possible. The Commission is further concerned that the proper treatment of
people in detention is not being safeguarded despite the contractual
obligations of private service providers and external scrutiny processes. As an
alternative the Commision has encouraged the expansion of the community
Comcare works in partnership with employees and employers to reduce the
human and financial costs of workplace injuries and disease in the Commonwealth
jurisdiction. In July 2011 Comcare made a number of findings as a result of its
investigation into work health and safety in seven facilities across the
immigration detention network.
This report was released in August 2011 under the Freedom of Information Act
The investigation was initiated because of concerns held by Comcare
about the health and safety of federal workers, contractors and detainees in
the immigration detention network. These concerns arose, in part, because of
recent reports of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Australian Human Rights
Comcare concluded that standards of work health and safety varied across
the network. For example, the Inverbrackie Alternative Place of Detention was
assessed as having the highest standard at the time of the visits. Villawood Immigration
Detention Centre was assessed as having the most serious concerns. A number of
improvements were observed to have occurred over the course of the
The investigator found that DIAC failed to meet its legislated work
health and safety obligations in five areas of significant risk: risk
management, staffing ratios, training for DIAC staff and contractors, critical
incident management, and managing the diversity of detainees.
The investigation report that has been provided to DIAC includes a
series of recommendations for work health and safety improvements to address
these areas of risk. Comcare requires an action plan from DIAC in response to
the recommendations by 22 August 2011.
The Committee asked Comcare for a copy of the action plan on 22 November 2011.
No response was received, an outcome the Committee considers totally
DIAC advised that it continues to work with Comcare to respond to the
risks identified in the report, and has already made changes to the management
of Villawood IDC.
Recent changes include:
establishing a dedicated health and safety team and the national detention
facility health and safety team, to provide specialised work health and safety
support for staff and managers working in detention facilities;
developing national work health and safety guidance for staff and
managers at facilities, which was expected to be finalised and implemented
across the network by October 2011;
developing a national detention facility hazard inspection
schedule, which was distributed in July 2011;
detention facility ‘environmental scans’ conducted during 2011,
involving comprehensive review of current work health and safety practices,
identification of risks and training needs and collection of evidence from
local activities for the Department's monitoring obligations under the Occupational
Health and Safety Act 1991;
establishing with Comcare a process for recording incidents both
within DIAC and at Comcare;
reconciliation of results to enable Comcare to strengthen its
guidance on reporting of incidents;
engaging professional services from Price Waterhouse Coopers to
help develop a suite of risk assessments and risk management plans for managing
detention services contracts; and
conducting risk assessment workshops at all sites during July and
early August 2011.
During the Adelaide hearing the Committee asked DIAC to provide an
update on its compliance with the Comcare Report. DIAC advised that it was responding
periodically to issues raised by the report, and had discussed some issues with
There are a variety of recommendations covering a variety of
different issues. Time frames are being dealt with through all of those. They
are not simple, easy issues. They go to quite complex issues that require
changes over time and we are in continuing dialogue with both Comcare and Serco
in respect of the implementation of those recommendations.
Australian National Audit Office
The Auditor-General is an independent officer of the Parliament who is
responsible for providing auditing services to the Parliament and public sector
entities. The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) supports the
Auditor-General to perform this role.
The ANAO is currently conducting an audit on DIAC's management of the
provision of individual management services to people in immigration detention.
The ANAO is also due to table an audit of the effectiveness of ASIO's
arrangements for providing timely and soundly based security assessments of
individuals in winter 2012.
Review into riots and disturbances
at Christmas Island and Villawood
In addition to external oversight and accountability, the Department has
also commissioned its own independent reviews from time to time. The most
recent and relevant of this was the review by Mr Allan Hawke AO and Ms Helen
Williams AM into the incidents at Christmas Island and Villawood in early 2011.
This review is covered in detail in Chapter 8, but it bears summarising here by
way of background.
Dr Allan Hawke AO and Ms Helen Williams AM were commissioned to conduct
the inquiry into the Christmas Island and Villawood riots, in March and April
2011 respectively, through an investigation into the management and security at
the relevant IDCs. The reviewers were to report to the Minister and to make
recommendations to strengthen security and prevent similar incidents occurring
again. Particular attention was paid to:
the clarity of roles and responsibilities between Serco and DIAC
in managing the IDC and in managing the incident;
how breaches of security were achieved, what access detainees of
the centre had to tools to assist with such breaches, and, if relevant, how
such access occurred;
the extent of any prior indicators or intelligence that would
have assisted in the prevention and/or management of the incident;
the adequacy of infrastructure, staffing and detainee management
in maintain appropriate security at the centre;
the adequacy of training and supervision of DIAC and Serco staff;
the effectiveness of the communication and coordination between
the relevant government agencies and contractors; and
the appropriateness of the response measures taken to the
The reviewers made 48 recommendations to the Minister, which were
accepted in full. Key recommendations related to infrastructure, security,
training, staffing numbers and communication with state police. The report and
its findings are considered again in Chapter 8.
Review of Humanitarian Settlement
Services by Mr David Richmond AO
Mr David Richmond was commissioned by the Minister for Immigration and
Citizenship to conduct a review of humanitarian settlement services (HSS), a
program run by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
The key objectives of the program are to provide on-arrival support to
recipients of humanitarian visas. The report was provided in September 2011.
The report does not review the immigration detention network, but it
does discuss the impact that increased numbers of irregular maritime arrivals
(IMAs) has had on HSS, and also discusses how the community detention program
could be better managed to prepare detainees who receive protection visas for
the HSS program.
The report identifies a number of stresses on the program. Relevantly, the
rise of IMAs has impacted upon the effectiveness of the HSS program in two
First, the Department is currently trying to decrease the number of
people in restrictive detention, placing them into community detention. Mr
Richmond was concerned that, as community detention also involves the use of
outsourced services, this may increase DIAC's coordination risks with the HSS
program. For example, IMAs who have been detained in IDCs or APODs, but then
move to community detention may expect the same level of support when they move
to the HSS program. Mr Richmond noted that each phase provides different levels
of support and services and the expectations of IMAs need to be effectively
Secondly, the increase in IMAs – many of whom are single adult males – has
changed the demographic of clients served by the HSS program. Mr Richmond
In the current environment of increased numbers (particularly
of onshore arrivals from detention), very significant increases in the numbers
of single adult males and unaccompanied minors, and significantly rising
expectations about service standards and quality, inevitably some of these
features present challenges to the Contract.
Mr Richmond appreciated that once a person has been granted a
protection visa, the imperative is to move that person out of detention as soon
as possible (as the individual is now a permanent resident of Australia).
However, this imperative must be balanced against the capacity of HSS
contractors to source appropriate accommodation and support for the client.
Overall Mr Richmond concluded that DIAC's oversight and management of
the program is adequate, but areas of improvement were indentified.
Findings in the inquests into the deaths at Villawood in 2011
The NSW Coroner handed down findings in relation to the deaths of three
detainees at Villawood IDC on 19 December 2011. The Coroner found that Josefa
Rauluni, Ahmed Obeid Al-Akabi and David Saunders had died from self inflicted
injuries in September, November and December 2010. The Coroner's report makes
sobering reading. The Coroner found that DIAC, IHMS and Serco cannot ‘escape
criticism for the manner in which that duty was fulfilled in caring for the
inmates at Villawood at least in the last months of 2010’.
The Coroner observed that people in immigration detention are at a
greater risk of self harm than people in the general community. For this reason
DIAC and its contractors owe a higher standard of care. The Coroner found that
appropriate mental health screenings and protocols were not in place, or at
least not carried out, to minimise the risk or treat appropriately any of the
men who died. DIAC Case Managers were constantly changing, IHMS did not keep
adequate records, Serco officers were not adequately trained to follow
procedures, and all parties failed to record and share information.
The Coroner concluded:
In all three deaths, some of the actions of some staff were
careless, ignorant or both, and communications were sadly lacking. [Suicide and
Self Harm] procedures were not followed by DIAC or Serco personnel, DIAC failed
to ensure that Serco and IHMS were fulfilling the terms of the contract between
them and there were startling examples of mismanagement on the part of DIAC,
Serco and IHMS.
The Coroner made a number of recommendations to DIAC, Serco and IHMS to
improve procedures in detention centres. The Coroner recommended that DIAC:
revise procedures in relation to use of force in removing a
detainee from Australia, in particular where that person has made a threat of
ensure that case managers are aware that they must make referrals
for risk assessments to IHMS as soon as risk factors are observed;
ensure that all referrals to IHMS are made in writing, and
documented on a central database; and
ensure that all staff keep proper records of any relevant
observations made of detainees, and any information received from IHMS, DIAC or
The Coroner recommended that Serco develop procedures to better respond
to detainees who have been assessed as being at risk. For example,
ensuring that the outcome of a risk assessment is sought when a
detainee has been referred to IHMS;
documenting the presence of risk factors on detainee files;
ensuring that all Serco officers in the area are aware when there
is a need for higher support for a detainee; and
developing a policy on use of force, including de-escalation
techniques and appropriate planning to reduce risks.
The Coroner recommended that IHMS develop a standard procedure for risk
assessments that takes into account all relevant information, train staff on
these procedures and notify DIAC and Serco on the outcome of all risk
assessments in writing.
The Coroner also recommended that DIAC, IHMS and Serco work to develop better
communication processes, and that DIAC consider changing the clinical
governance structure at Villawood so that all the processes are overseen by a
psychiatrist, and consider using trained negotiators in local and federal
The Secretary of DIAC, Mr Andrew Metcalfe, advised the Committee during
its last hearing on 29 February 2012 that DIAC was in the process of responding
to all the recommendations, with some significant changes already made. For
example, the recommendation in relation to clinical governance was implemented
in August 2011.
DIAC has not yet made a formal response to the report, but expected to do so
This chapter has provided a broad outline of the immigration detention
network in Australia: the types of facilities, location and infrastructure
challenges. The key responsibilities of DIAC and its contracted service
providers have been set out, along with the experience of detainees within the
network. The rise of IMAs in recent years has put considerable pressure on the
network and on the services provided by DIAC, IHMS and Serco. Oversight and
integrity agencies such as the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Australian Human
Rights Commission have reported regularly on pressures within the system and
the need for change. These organisations, as well as independent reviewers,
have made recommendations for improvements to the system.
In the next two chapters the Committee examines in more detail the
important services that IHMS and Serco are contracted to deliver.
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