24 January 2023

Australia is, rightly, a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which requires all places of detention to be open to independent inspections by the UN to ensure there is no inhumane treatment of detainees. The process is has uncovered dangerous and illegal treatment of prisoners in immigration detention: “An immigration detainee [in the Park Hotel detention centre] served a contaminated meal was not offered an alternative because the maggots were ‘just on the vegetables’… The report made 18 recommendations to the Department of Home Affairs and detailed several incidents, including how fire extinguishers were deployed against immigration detainees on Christmas Island last year in a ‘planned and systematic use of force’. The report also uncovered two ‘holding cells’ — rooms with just a mattress on a concrete slab — in New South Wales’s Villawood immigration detention centre were being used without any time limits or consultation with health or mental health staff, despite a toilet, sink or running water being a requirement for inmates kept for any significant amount of time.” Unfortunately, Victoria, Queensland and NSW are refusing to open their prisons to the same scrutiny. They are complaining about the cost — but frankly, if you’re going to open a prison the cost of independent inspections should be part of it. Their recalcitrance is putting Australia in breach of treaty obligations.