Excessive use of force to be exercised in immigration detention centres


By Georgie Richardson, Student Editor at the Australian Journal of Human Rights

The Migration Amendment (Maintaining the Good Order of Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2015 proposes to give security guards in detention centres the power to use force if they believe it is necessary to protect life or avoid injury. If passed, the Bill will amend the Migration Act 1958, and will apply to detention centres on the mainland and Christmas Island. A, perhaps unintended, consequence of the Bill is that it may encourage mistreatment and violence against asylum seekers in detention centres and limit the accountability of the security guards when force is used against detainees as it would be highly unlikely that they would encounter prosecution in the courts.

The Bill outlines two main justifications for employing force. The first, is to protect the life, health or safety of any individual in a detention centre. The second is to uphold the good order, peace or security of an immigration detention facility. These powers could potentially give authorised officers with little training a greater degree of protection from prosecution than that which is given to state and federal police forces. There is the potential that this Bill, instead of improving the good order and security of Australia’s immigration detention facilities, will increase the risk of harm to individuals in detention.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has acknowledged that the Bill has the potential to restrict a number of rights. Rights of detainees could be infringed such as the prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to life, the right to humane treatment in detention, and the right to freedom of assembly.

The Refugee Advice and Casework Services has stated that the Bill “severely limits access to the courts, making it unlikely that abuses of the powers created by the Bill would be subject to any form of accountability”. If the Bill is passed, detainees could encounter mistreatment and force may be used in a manner that contravenes Australia’s international human rights responsibilities. 



Photo: Stephen Mitchell