Migration Amendment (Maintaining the Good Order of Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2015 - Speech 1

I want to start my contribution by picking up on some of the arguments Senator Lines put just then. Much of Senator Lines's contribution was focused on the fact that the particular training provided to Serco employees or employees more generally at these facilities is not sufficient for them to use reasonable force.

 

She also made the point that the changes in this bill where not specific recommendations of the review into the detention centre facilities—the Hawke review, I think it was. I have the Hawke review right here on my trusty smartphone—my iPad is dead—and on page 153, it says:

The four week induction training course—

This is a course provided by Serco—

provides a Certificate II Security Operations qualification—

as Senator Lines said—

and covers areas relevant to security management at an immigration detention centre, including use of reasonable force and restraints …

Senator Lines spent most of her contribution saying that this training course does not provide people with the skills and experience to use reasonable force. She also said that the review did not cover the aspects that we are debating here today. Well it did. And the training does. So Senator Lines's argument is completely wrong. The training course that is provided by Serco does provide training sufficient for the use of reasonable force. And the review that the previous Labor government commissioned into these incidents admitted that, or claimed that. So I think that is good enough. It is good enough for a review that Chris Bowen released while he was Immigration Minister. I think it is good enough for us for this bill's purposes.

It is true, as Senator Lines said, that the report did not make specific recommendations about the use of reasonable force. What it did say, though, was that the department had to more clearly articulate the responsibility for public order and management between the department and the detention service provider and any police services.

This particular review was conducted in relation to two particular incidents at Christmas Island and the Villawood immigration detention centres in 2011. These were some serious incidents that did involve the use of police services. There had been—and the report outlined—difficulties in transitioning from a detention service providers to the police forces, in terms of who had responsibility for bringing public order and safety back into some balance. That is why the review recommended that more clarity needed to be provided. And this bill provides that greater clarity. That is what this bill is about. It is about authorised officers at a detention centre, employed by a detention centre provider, having the authority to use reasonable force.

It is important to establish or to point out that employees at the moment can use reasonable force. This is not new. This bill does not establish something new there. What it does is provide greater clarity and certainty. Officers right now can use reasonable force. Indeed, my understanding of common law is that most of us could use reasonable force if necessary in our own working lives. The employers of detention centres do need to rely on the common law provisions that allow for the use of reasonable force where a court could look objectively that it was a reasonable response in the circumstances. But relying on the common law does not provide officers with the degree of certainty that our police forces have and the protections in state acts for them or that wardens at prisons have and protections for them. They have protections for the use of reasonable force that are codified and included in the various laws that govern their professions. This bill does the same. It is saying that there is a common-law provision that there is a basic right to use force when it is reasonable, but we should provide the employees in these facilities, who put their own safety at risk, with some greater certainty that they too have the protections afforded to other officers in similar roles, particularly those employed by state and territory governments.

So what does this do? This bill outlines specifically what an authorised officer may use as reasonable force, so it provides that clarity I was speaking about. In the case of an authorised officer who reasonably believes it is necessary to protect a person, including the authorised officer himself or herself, in an immigration detention facility from harm or the threat of harm, reasonable force can be used. Reasonable force can be used if it is reasonably needed to protect a detainee in an immigration facility from self-harm or a threat of self-harm; to prevent the escape of a detainee from an immigration detention facility; to prevent a person from damaging, destroying or interfering with property in an immigration detention facility; to move a detainee within an immigration detention facility; or to prevent action in an immigration detention facility by any person that endangers the life, health or safety of any person in the facility or disturbs the good order, peace or security of the facility.

Those provisions specifically outline, with some clarity, what officers can use reasonable force for, and that is not something that currently exists for them, relying on the common law. I understand Senator Lines's care for the welfare of officers and employees of our detention service providers, but I disagree with her. It is my view that these protections are actually all about protecting those employers. It is about providing them with safety and security so that they can act to protect their own safety and the good working order of the detention facilities they work in.

It is also the case that, while the clarity has been provided in that case for what could constitute reasonable force, this bill does not seek specifically to define reasonable force per se.

Under policy, reasonable force must be no more than that required to ensure the life, health or safety of any person in the facility, be consistent with the seriousness of the incident, be proportional to the level of resistance offered by the person, avoid inflicting injury if possible, and be used only as a measure of last resort.

What I just quoted is from the explanatory memorandum, and it explicitly outlines that reasonable force can only be used where those criteria are met, in accordance with the general policy for the use of reasonable force, and there are a number of protections in there.

This bill also introduces other protections. There are requirements on officers to use reasonable force only as a last resort and only where it is a reasonable use of that force. This bill also will establish a statutory complaints mechanism that will allow anyone that would like to make a complaint about the use of force by a detention service provider to make that complaint and have it dealt with.

Senator Lines mentioned there were only 120 people she thought were a great threat. Well, 120 people can do a lot of damage. They can disrupt and cause harm to many people, and I actually want to put the interests of the employees of the detention service providers ahead of those 120 people that Senator Lines admits are troublemakers when they are in detention facilities. So this bill should be something that is supported and implemented by this government. I would like to seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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