By Terri Butler MP

31 August 2020

The Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 is a bill that, if passed in its current form, would allow the government to prohibit items such as mobile phones in detention centres. But there's a particular place of detention that I wanted to mention, and that's the one in my electorate, at the Kangaroo Point motel. That motel houses a number of people at the moment and has done now for many, many months. The government decided to establish what they call an 'alternative place of detention' at Kangaroo Point—but it is what most people would think of as a makeshift detention facility in a motel—some time ago. Regrettably, they didn't consult with me before establishing that facility, but nonetheless it's been established in my electorate. There have been a number of people in that APOD, as they call it, for a long time now.

The facility has been controversial, but I will say that, regardless of what people think about the protests that have been mounted in relation to that facility, I've yet to find anyone who thinks it's a good thing that people—people who are here because they are in need of medical attention—are being held there for a very long time. People are concerned—my constituents are concerned—about the health and wellbeing of those who are being housed in the APOD, and they're concerned about what the future might hold for those people as well. Many of my constituents have called for the government to allow the people in the APOD to live in the community rather than in a makeshift detention centre in a hotel, and many of those same constituents are concerned about the effect that this bill, if it were passed in its current form, would have on the health and wellbeing of people who are being housed in the APOD.

My constituents have had significant concerns about this, and so have I—in fact, even before the COVID epidemic. Of course, once I found out that this APOD had been established in my electorate I insisted on being able to go inside, which I have done once. What I saw inside, and this was, as I said, well before the COVID epidemic, was very cramped living conditions for a lot of people who were not in great shape to begin with. In fact, that's what they're here for, to get medical attention. To not have certainty, to not have a clear way forward into the future is very difficult for them. Many of them have families outside the detention centre, and they are very concerned. Once the COVID pandemic hit, people were even more concerned about the conditions within that centre. So a lifeline to the outside world has been really important. We've been calling on the government repeatedly to make sure that they are doing everything they possibly can to protect the health and wellbeing of people within that centre. We've also been calling on the government to allow people to go into the community, where it's safe—for that to occur and not to be housed in the hotel.

I am very concerned that, if this bill was passed in its current form, the removal of people's mobile phones from them would cause a further diminution in the health and wellbeing of the people who are living in the APOD. It's been very difficult to bring the government to supporting in a meaningful way the people who are living in the APOD. For example, I've been trying to get an electric guitar into the APOD for a resident in there for whom music is a release. Music is a release for a lot of people. It is for me. I can only imagine what it would be like to not have an instrument after being cooped up in a hotel for months on end. But trying to get this government to enable even that to occur, so that a resident in the APOD can at least play some music to blow off a bit of steam, has been incredibly difficult. I say this not because I think it is the biggest issue in the world. Of course, it's not. It's an example of how even minor things seem to be just too much trouble for this government. So I am quite concerned about what it would be like if the government had the right to just put an outright prohibition on mobile phones for people who are living in this place of detention. I know that my constituents are concerned about that as well.

I wanted to speak on this bill really to say that I do encourage the government to look very closely at Senator Keneally's correspondence. I do encourage the government not to politicise this bill. I have to say I've lost hope in that a bit after hearing the member for Ryan's contribution in this debate. He seems to think that this is just an opportunity for partisanship and bashing the Labor Party. This is an opportunity to remember that in my electorate there is a hotel in which there are living a number of people who don't know what the future holds for them and who for seven years haven't known what the future holds for them. Refugees are refugees because they have fled persecution. That is what a refugee is. So we've got people who have already had terrible experiences in their home country who then sought protection and have then had quite a feeling of hopelessness as they've waited and waited and waited to find somewhere to live permanently, settle and start their new lives. And now, with this hanging over their heads, I can only imagine the anxiety that it's causing for them.

So I do encourage the government, as I said, to do the right thing—to take into account, in good faith, the issues put forward by the Labor Party; to take into account the correspondence that Senator Kristina Keneally has sent to the minister; to see what can be done in relation to dealing with some of the issues that have been raised in support of this bill while, at the same time, not contributing to further distress, anxiety and hopelessness on the part of people who are living in an APOD because they have come seeking help. That's what I encourage. I hope that that is taken up in good faith. I hope that we don't see partisanship and the politicisation of this issue with an eye on the electoral consequences but that instead we treat people with the dignity that they deserve, because they are human beings. They're not a means to an end. They deserve to be treated with dignity and with respect and as an end in themselves. And this government, I hope, will take heed, do the right thing and see what can be done to resolve some of the very important issues that have been raised.