REGION: Private contractor backs bill allowing use of force in detention centres

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MIL OSI Analysis

Refugees on Nauru protesting at Anibare camp. Image: Refugee Action Coalition

Monday, April 20, 2015

Item: 9226

Mary Baines
WELLINGTON (Radio New Zealand International/ Pacific Media Watch): A contractor, International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), says it supports an Australian Bill that would allow its staff to use force against detainees in immigration centres.

But the Human Rights Law Centre in Australia has condemned the proposed increased powers to use force with fewer checks and balances.

The Australian government is seeking to make immigration officers largely immune from liability for using force on detainees, if it is believed necessary to protect others in detention or maintain good order.

There have been repeated violent incidents at Canberra’s camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Mary Baines reported:

“In its submission to changes on the Migration Act, IHMS, which has 260 staff at Australian-run detention centres, says it has seen an increase in violent and aggressive behaviour.

“It says that includes the damaging of furniture, walls and doors, throwing objects, and some isolated incidents of inappropriate touching and physical aggression.

“It says there has been a small number of serious attempts to harm IHMS staff in which individuals have had to be physically restrained by security staff.

“It says given the serious repercussions should security personel not have the capability to restrain an individual who is harming themselves or another person, IHMS supports the Bill.”

Former judge ‘horrified’
In an earlier article, Radio New Zealand International reported a former Supreme Court judge in Australia had said proposed new powers for security guards at immigration detention centres would allow them to beat asylum seekers to death with impunity.

In his submission to changes on Australia’s Migration Act, Stephen Charles said he was horrified at the systematic abuse the Bill will allow to be inflicted on vulnerable people.

Charles said the law would allow an officer to act in a way that would cause grievous bodily harm without criminal charge if it was believed the force was used “in good faith”, or if it was “reasonably believed” it was necessary.

He said that was a subjective standard, and would allow for excessive force to be used in almost any circumstance.

Charles said the amendments would make it harder to bring legal action against a guard who inflicted harm, and might even encourage it.

‘Recipe for trouble’
Radio New Zealand International also reported that the Human Rights Law Centre in Australia said the bill was a ‘recipe for trouble’.

The HRLC’s director of legal advocacy, Daniel Webb, had raised concern about increasing powers to use force while decreasing checks and balances on the exercise of those powers.

He said Australia was the only country in the world that subjected asylum seekers to mandatory and indefinite detention as a first resort and the average length of time people were spending in immigration centres was now more than 400 days.

Webb said instead of creating excessive and unchecked powers to supress unrest, its root causes should be addressed – the amount of time innocent people were being locked in limbo.

The bill is the subject of a Senate inquiry that is due to report next month.

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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