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A top immigration official recommends more community based schemes for processing asylum claims and raises questions about the effectiveness of unnecessary detention.
Will our politicians listen? Doesn’t take much to blow out a candle.
I’m indebted to Jack Smit of SafeCom for posting the following transcript. Check out SafeCom, by the way – it’s one of the most regular and comprehensive monitors of social justice issues in Australia I have come across.

Immigration Dept head raises questions about mandatory detention

ABC Radio Current Affairs – AM
Naomi Woodley
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 08:03:00

TONY EASTLEY: The head of the Immigration Department says politicians should be questioning the value of mandatory detention for asylum seekers.

Andrew Metcalfe also told the start of another parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s detention system that he’d personally like to see more community-based programs.

The top-ranking public servant has posed a series of questions for MPs and Senators.

From Canberra, Naomi Woodley reports.

NAOMI WOODLEY: In June, Parliament voted to set up a select or ongoing inquiry into Australia’s immigration detention network.

The secretary of the Immigration Department Andrew Metcalfe opened its first hearing last night by outlining the areas he thinks politicians should focus on.

ANDREW METCALFE: There are a range of policy conundrums. How should we manage the issue of asylum? What is the balance between our international obligations to protect refugees and our need for strong border controls?

NAOMI WOODLEY: And he had some more pointed suggestions on the treatment of asylum seekers who reach Australia.

ANDREW METCALFE: Is immigration detention a deterrent? Does immigration detention facilitate case resolution?

What range of facilities should be utilised? For how long is an immigrant arrival and status determination process in a detention centre environment required?

There are many questions for you as parliamentarians to consider.

NAOMI WOODLEY: None of the MPs or Senators at the inquiry directly asked Mr Metcalfe to expand on what he meant.

Instead the Opposition’s immigration spokesman Scott Morrison was focusing on the sharp increase in the number of serious incidents in detention centres this year.

SCOTT MORRISON: At what point in this escalation of these quite serious indicators were you instructed by the Minister to say, look, something’s not working here?

Basically, when did you get to the Houston-we-have-a-problem stage?

ANDREW METCALFE: Ah, I think that I wouldn’t describe it as there being one specific date in which I woke up or the Department woke up and see the Minister – we have a problem.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Andrew Metcalfe says it’s partly explained by a significant number of people who’ve been in detention for a long time because their initial claims have been refused.

He also says the inquiry should be looking at whether detention is contributing to the rates of self-harm amongst detainees.

Late in the three-hour hearing he again suggested that policy makers should be look at alternatives to mandatory detention. He says he’d personally like community programs to be expanded.

ANDREW METCALFE: It hasn’t been entirely without incident as you would not expect anything involving hundreds of people to be entirely without incident, but we believe it does provide the Department with the necessary access to our clients in terms of status determination without their being required to be held in detention facilities, often in fairly remote locations.

NAOMI WOODLEY: He says since last October, 1765 people have been placed in community detention including 841 children.

The committee’s next hearing will be on Christmas Island in September.

TONY EASTLEY: Naomi Woodley reporting.

http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2011/s3295098.htm
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