The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) seeks approval from the Committee to proceed with the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation Hardening Project at Broadmeadows in Victoria.
The estimated cost of the project is $29.067 million (excluding GST).
The project was referred to the Committee on 1 December 2016.
Conduct of the inquiry
Following referral, the inquiry was publicised on the Committee’s website and via media release.
The Committee received 24 submissions and two confidential submissions. A list of submissions can be found at Appendix A.
On 20 February 2017, the Committee conducted a public and in-camera hearing. A transcript of the public hearing is available on the Committee’s website.
Need for the works
According to DIBP, the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) facility ‘was opened in 2008 as a small scale hostel-style detention facility developed from a former Officer’s Mess’ on Commonwealth-owned land in Broadmeadows
In its submission, DIBP noted that the profile of those held in immigration detention centres is changing:
The held immigration detention population is reducing given lower risk detainees are generally placed in the community as soon as practicable. This has significantly changed the profile of the held immigration detention population, with a growing proportion of the population being medium to high risk. An increasing number of the immigration detention population have had their visas cancelled on character grounds, due to criminal convictions and links to organised crime or outlaw motorcycle gangs. Others are not able to be released into the community for security reasons, or because of behavioural concerns while residing in an immigration detention facility.
This shift in the security risk posed by detainees has led to a lack of appropriate facilities. According to DIBP:
Most facilities in the immigration detention network (IDN) are not fit-for-purpose to manage an increased higher risk cohort, and to maintain separation between cohorts, as they were largely designed to accommodate a low to medium risk caseload. They also do not have appropriate facilities and security to manage the visitors of higher risk individuals, who also present a range of risks to the good order of immigration detention facilities.
DIBP told the Committee that it had conducted a review of its IDN ‘with a view to contracting the immigration detention footprint’. According to DIBP, following this review:
In the 2016-17 Budget process, the Government announced the closure of three immigration detention facilities over the next 24 months, given the reduction in the held detention population, and the decision not to extend the lease of a fourth. It also announced investment in three key remaining facilities in the network to make them fit for purpose to manage increasing numbers of higher risk detainees. These are the MITA, the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre, and Villawood Immigration Detention Centre. Timing of some facility closures is linked to the establishment of new higher security capability at the three key sites listed above, which are required to support compliance operations in the east and west.
In 2016-17, the Committee scrutinised hardening works proposed for the Yongah Hill facility.
DIBP stated that, in order for the MITA facility to meet the policy objectives outlined above, any proposed work would need to:
Provide increased higher security accommodation to meet operational requirements;
Effectively manage the welfare of detainees through appropriate access to:
Recreation and sporting amenities; and
A secure and safe environment.
Provide a safe environment for detainees, visitors and staff; and
Provide adequate delay for escape attempts to give the Detention Service Provider time to respond.
Scope of the works
In its submission, DIBP set out the objectives of the proposed works, stating that they were intended to achieve:
140 higher security beds, across four compounds, and associated amenity in MITA;
Flexibility to separate and manage a variety of caseloads for extended periods if required to manage tension in the facility;
Improved security arrangements, including high risk visitor screening;
An eight bed behavioural management unit to assist in maintenance of good order; and
Cost effective and sustainable infrastructure/asset management.
In order to achieve these objectives, DIBP proposed the following works:
Decommissioning and removal of existing accommodation within the Calder/Eildon compounds at the MITA, where possible retaining existing shared amenity;
Construction of a new secure 140 hardened bed accommodation within the four compounds. DIBP has identified a suitable modular accommodation solution based on correctional service style accommodation;
The compound will provide capacity for internal separation of detainee groups;
The compound is to be self-contained and include detainee amenities such as laundry, telephones, internet facilities and recreational space;
The project will introduce a new sterile zone to secure both the perimeter via anti-climb fencing and internal separation fencing to meet functional requirements;
Other security elements will include CCTV capability, perimeter detection and security lighting; and
The project will include completion of any and all necessary civil works including connection of existing services.
Co-location of high and low risk detainees
During this inquiry, the Committee received a number of submissions which raised concerns about detainees who have been assessed as low risk being placed in detention being placed at risk by being co-located with detainees assessed as high risk. According to Foundation House:
For many years, Foundation House and others have expressed concern about co-locating in detention facilities people seeking asylum, who are generally seen to be low risk, with people whose visas were cancelled on character grounds and were assessed as higher risk. Co-location has created a circumstance for violence and threats of violence to occur.
Furthermore, Foundation House stated:
As explained in the submission of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), quite different infrastructure and procedures are required for people who present distinctly different levels of risk. Co-location significantly increases the likelihood that those operating the facility and staff will adopt uniform practices towards all those detained, treating them as if they were all of high risk and consequently imposing unduly harsh practices on people of low risk.
As a result of these concerns, Foundation House told the Committee that:
In our view, it would be far preferable for people who are assessed as low risk to be placed in quite separate facilities to those in which people considered to be higher risk associated with the cancellation of visas on character grounds, are housed.
As mentioned above, similar concerns were raised by a range of submitters to this inquiry, including members of the Broadmeadows community who regularly visit detainees at MITA. Ms Maria Vamvakinou MP, Federal Member for Calwell which includes Broadmeadows, told the Committee that this was a key area of concern raised at a community meeting convened by her office in January 2017. Hume City Council raised similar issues in its submission.
These concerns are well summarised in a submission by Mr Peter Hansen, a regular visitor to the facility and a Broadmeadows resident:
High security processes and visit room procedures for low risk people who are seeking asylum make it difficult for the visiting community to connect and support. The visiting community save the immigration and border protection system money. They settle people faster and they improve people’s mental health thereby reducing welfare and health costs. This relies on the initial connections made in the visit rooms. One on one visits to high security centres make it so much harder to establish and maintain the connections.
Mr Hansen further stated that the proposal for medical facilities being shared by low and high risk detainees will result in asylum seekers coming ‘into direct contact with people accused and/or convicted of serious crimes’, and that ‘this has a direct cost to the people seeking asylum and the community in terms of mental health support and recovery’.
At the public hearing, DIBP told the Committee the separation of low and high risk detainees was ‘exactly what this security upgrade was designed to do’. DIBP told the Committee that of the four compounds at MITA, only two would be upgraded to house high risk detainees, while the other two would remain in place and would continue to house low risk detainees.
Furthermore, DIBP stated that while it was seeking to leverage off existing infrastructure as far as practicable to contain costs:
The master planning also ensures that there was adequate amenity for both low- and high-risk detainees and capacity to separate these two groups if required. DIBP takes it duty of care seriously. The facility operating model will ensure adequate amenity for all detainees, regardless of their risk rating; equitable access to medical treatment; and structured programs and activities.
Additionally, DIBP told the Committee that:
The proposed project will provide suitable accommodation and amenity to house higher risk detainees in two compounds. The compounds will be largely self-contained. The one-off infrastructure investment will assist in reducing ongoing guarding costs. It will provide additional layers of security within the centre that will assist in maintenance of good order.
While DIBP stated that it had not yet developed the operating model:
The premise will be to use that point of separation. In terms of whether there will be any interaction, there may well be. But my view would be that it would be fairly limited and, if there were any interaction, it would be very carefully managed.
DIBP discussed an example of this, which referred to potential cases where low risk detainees would require services that could only be provided at the larger medical facility at MITA, which is intended for use by all detainees at the facility. According to DIBP, while it has not yet developed the operating model to facilitate an appropriate separation of cohorts, such situations would likely be managed by ensuring detainees are appropriately escorted by security personnel.
In regard to visitors to MITA, DIBP stated that there would be no change to existing arrangements for visitors to low risk detainees:
The accessibility is the same as it has been, so nothing would change in terms of access to the low- and medium-risk detainees. In terms of the newer area that we are proposing to build, we will again create a visit centre and, obviously, those detained in [the high-risk area] will have access to visitors as well but it will be managed in that new visit space.
While the concerns raised around the potential impact that housing convicted criminals awaiting deportation in a residential area are concerning, the Committee is reassured by DIBP’s evidence indicating that these concerns have been incorporated into the design of the proposed works. DIBP has a reasonable level of experience in dealing with detaining high risk individuals, both in its operations at the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre in Melbourne and the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney. The Committee is confident that this experience will be put to use in the design and construction of these proposed works.
Overall, the Committee is satisfied that DIBP will, based on its own experience and that of its security services provider, ensure that sufficient operational flexibility will exist to ensure that the various detainee cohorts to be housed at the facility are sufficiently segregated to ensure the safety of detainees and the good order of the facility.
The Committee is also satisfied that visitors will continue to be able to access MITA to visit low-risk detainees in much the same way as they do currently, and that facilities will exist to facilitate appropriate levels of screening for visitors to high risk detainees.
Location of the works
In addition to concerns about the scope of the works, many local residents raised concerns about the location of the works.
In her submission, Ms Vamvakinou MP commented on the history behind the current facility, stating:
When MITA was first proposed to be built some 12 years ago, our local community engaged in a campaign to convince the Federal Government not to build a high security detention facility in Broadmeadows. The campaign was run by a coalition of community, council and local members – including myself – and was named ‘Links not Locks’.
Our concern was very much about the nature of the then proposed high risk facility and the social impact it would have on the community given its cultural diversity, and given Broadmeadows is a place that settles large cohorts of refugees, and continues to do so today.
At the public hearing, Ms Vamvakinou elaborated on this history:
The Federal Government reviewed its original decision and we ended up with what is known as [MITA], a much smaller version and one that was predominantly used for people who had been in breach of visa overstay – so it was a transit centre. Obviously, the nature of the detention centre changed over a period of time but, during that period, this community strongly felt that such a facility would not be appropriate to be placed in this community.
Mr Phillip Di Biase, a Broadmeadows resident, told the Committee that the Broadmeadows area is not an appropriate location for housing high risk detainees with serious criminal convictions:
Broadmeadows is not some remote farm town, nor is it a secure location, it is 35 minutes from the CBD and 15 minutes from the airport, it has many buses and Metro and regional trains, it would possibly be one of the worst places for a break out of international criminals.
This land could be best used for several other purposes due to its location and not a detention centre which will likely lock up the land for a number of years.
Mr Di Biase was of the view that the location of such a facility poses a risk to residents of such ‘a highly populated residential zone’.
Mr Frank McGuire MLA, state Member for Broadmeadows, echoed these concerns, telling the Committee that housing those convicted of a serious criminal offense awaiting deportation under Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 was ‘the last stigma one of Australia’s most disadvantaged districts needs at its most vulnerable time’.
Mr McGuire argued that, rather than expend money to upgrade the MITA facility, the ‘funds should be invested in a catalyst for economic development’.
Mr McGuire put forward a document he had produced entitled Creating Opportunity: Postcodes of Hope as a means as investing in the Broadmeadows region to achieve this economic development. A copy of this document is included in Mr McGuire’s submission to this inquiry.
Hume City Council took a similar position to Mr McGuire on the location of the proposed works. Councillor Drew Jessop, Mayor of Hume City Council, elaborated on this view at the public hearing:
The location of a detention centre in the municipality is not consistent with the Hume City’s view that everyone who lives in the municipality should have the opportunity to live life to their full potential. Council is also of the firm view that the land in question would deliver far greater benefits to the community if it was used for economic development and employment opportunities, not detention, given its strategic position.
DIBP responded to these concerns by noting that the proposed works are part of a wider program of rationalisation within the IDN. It stated that it had examined the option of establishing a new facility at an alternative site, but that this would have come at a cost of around $109 million. As a result, this option was not considered to be cost effective when compared with the proposed project.
The Committee thanks members of the Broadmeadows community for their input into this inquiry. The views of local residents and others who are likely to be affected by proposed public works are very important to the Committee’s inquiry process, and greatly assist the Committee to gain a thorough understanding of the important issues at play.
The Committee also notes the concerns raised by Ms Vamvakinou MP, Mr McGuire MLA and Cr Jessop that Broadmeadows is an inappropriate location for such a facility generally. It commends all of them for their tireless efforts advocating on behalf of their constituents to assist in economic development in the area.
The Committee also commends the residents of the Broadmeadows area who made submissions and gave evidence at the public hearing for their efforts. The strength of feeling in the community was very clear, and their passion and desire to strengthen and improve their community was obvious to the Committee members who attended the hearing.
However, the Committee is of the view that the matters raised in relation to how the site could be better used go are more fundamental than the question currently before the Committee, and go beyond the scope of this inquiry. These are issues that, at core, relate more to the policy behind the proposed works, and should be raised with the relevant ministers.
The Committee would encourage all of the submitters to this inquiry who raised this issue to continue to make their views heard, and to advocate on behalf of their community.
In light of the assurances received from DIBP about their ability to separate cohorts, the relative cost effectiveness of the proposed project over developing a new site, and DIBP’s capacity to ensure the maintenance of good order in the proposed upgraded facility, the Committee finds that the proposed scope of the works is suitable for the works to meet its purpose.
In its submission, DIBP listed the key stakeholders consulted as including DIBP itself, the Department of Finance, security services provider Serco, and medical services provider International Health and Medical Services.
Many of the submissions to this inquiry raised the lack of consultation with the local community as an issue with this proposed project. For example, according to the Craigieburn Residents’ Association:
It has been brought to our attention that there has been very little community consultation with the residents of Broadmeadows in relation to this upgrade, nor has there been any information disseminated to the local and broader community as to the social, economic and safety implications of the such an upgrade.
Furthermore, at the public hearing Ms Sheriden Tate told the Committee of her belief that:
Out in the Hume community there is still a lot of ignorance about [this project] and people are not aware of it. That, for me, is a frustrating thing. I also believe there has been a community consultation group (CCG) in regards to the MITA facility, but there is no one that represents the community on that group. We are stakeholders, so we should have an entitlement to have our input into the facility as a whole, as it is operating now.
DIBP subsequently confirmed with the Committee that the membership of the CCG is intended to comprise of ‘up to ten community representatives’, and that the Hume City Council are represented on the CCG. Nonetheless, DIBP undertook to review the membership of the CCG, in light of the comments made by local residents at the public hearing for this inquiry.
Mr McGuire also made some detailed comments about the lack of community consultation at the public hearing, noting that none of the ‘elected representatives of the community or any other community group… had been notified’, Mr McGuire stated that after speaking with Ms Vamvakinou and the Hume City Council, steps were taken to seek further information on the project. Further, Mr McGuire told the Committee that:
If you look at best practice as to how these things should be done, I can just say that I was gobsmacked, to put it bluntly. That is why, since then, I have been trying to establish the facts. I am aware that DIBP has now spoken directly to me, and I think they have gone around to speak to other people as well. But it looks like it was post the event and it gives the appearance of being an exercise in damage control.
Hume City Council was also critical of the consultation process. It stated that neither the Hume City Council nor the local community was included in consultations, and that as a result, the DIBP submission to this inquiry was ‘not truly reflective of the voices of the local community’.
Additionally, Hume City Council disagreed with DIBP’s submission, which stated that ‘the City of Hume supports the presence of MITA within its local authority’, noting that ‘Council has strongly advocated against a detention centre in Broadmeadows’ since 2005.
The Committee believes that the first round of consultation for this project was entirely deficient. As was the case when the Committee examined similar changes proposed for the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre, the Committee found that the local community was not effectively consulted on proposed changes, and that effective mechanisms for the local community to keep informed on the project did not seem to exist.
The Committee has subsequently received assurances from DIBP that it either has spoken with, or intends to speak with, representatives of the local community. Furthermore, DIBP has indicated that it intends to continue to engage with these representatives throughout the life of this project.
In its report on the Yongah Hill project, the Committee recommended that DIBP establish community consultation groups for all immigration detention centres in Australia, so as to allow local community representatives to provide feedback on construction project, and to provide local communities with information on construction projects undertaken at these facilities. The Committee has received assurances from DIBP that an improved consultation process has been put in place for the proposed works at MITA, and as such the Committee does not see it as necessary to make a similar recommendation in relation to these works.
Overall, in light of these efforts and DIBP’s assurances, the Committee is satisfied that DIBP will have appropriate mechanisms in place to both keep the local community informed, and allow community input into, current and future construction programs at the MITA facility.
Cost of the works
The project has a budget of $29.067 million, exclusive of GST. This includes contingencies, cost escalation, and associated professional fees. Funding for the project is being sourced from funds appropriated to DIBP.
DIBP provided further detail on project costings in its confidential submission and during an in-camera hearing.
The Committee is satisfied that the costings for the project provided to it have been adequately assessed by the proponent entity.
Having regard to its role and responsibilities contained in the Public Works Committee Act 1969, the Committee is of the view that this project signifies value for money for the Commonwealth and constitutes a project which is fit for purpose, having regard to the established need.
The Committee recommends that the House of Representatives resolve, pursuant to Section 18(7) of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, that it is expedient to carry out the following proposed works: Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation hardening works project.
Proponent entities must notify the Committee of any changes to the project scope, time, cost, function or design. The Committee also requires that a post-implementation report be provided within three months of project completion. A report template can be found on the Committee’s website.