A bill currently before the Federal Parliament would give potentially lethal powers to guards in immigration detention centres who have no more training than nightclub bouncers, according to senators opposing the laws.
Labor and Greens senators have warned the legislation – which could come to a vote as early as today – will provide broad new powers to guards working in the centres without providing sufficient safeguards or legal redress for asylum seekers who believe excessive force has been deployed against them.
Carol Brown, a Labor senator from Tasmania, said her party agreed that the circumstances in which detention guards can legally use force needed clarification, but described the bill as “unconscionable to pass… in its present form”.
“The bill we have before us; however, does not reduce uncertainty. On the contrary, the power to use force as defined in this bill is too broad and too subjective,” Brown said.
The law exempts the Commonwealth or guards working in centres from facing legal repercussions over the use of force if it is deployed in “good faith”. Legal and human rights experts have said the subjectivity of the test would make it virtually impossible to prosecute guards for acts of extreme violence against asylum seekers.
President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs told a Senate Inquiry into the bill that it gave powers to guards beyond those afforded to police. The Inquiry also heard the laws would allow guards to violently “quash” legitimate protests.
Labor has moved a number of amendments to the bill, as have the Greens, and Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told parliament those authorised to use force under the current bill would only need a Certificate II level of training, the same qualification bouncers in Kings Cross are required to complete.
“If we expect more of our police officers, if we require more of the guards who guard our prisons, why on earth should this place be expected to give unfettered force powers to security guards, who are meant to be looking after asylum seekers and refugees,” she said.
“The mothers, who recently protested peacefully in the Darwin facility at Wickham Point, did so because they were terrified that their young babies and toddlers were going to be sent to Nauru. Under this piece of legislation, they would be subjecting themselves to the use of force.”
Labor Senator Sue Lines, who formerly worked for the union that represents guards hired by private contractors in detention centres, made similar objections.
“When questioned during the hearing, the department said in evidence that contract detention centre officers had similar training to that of Western Australian prison officers and Victorian police. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Lines said.
“Victorian police undertake a Diploma of Public Safety: 33 weeks full-time with a further on-the-job training component of 83 weeks, which gives a total training period of two years and three months. Compare that for a moment with a Certificate II in Security Operations, which you can get on a weekend.’
Key crossbenchers have previously indicated they will not support the legislation, but the government is yet to bow to pressure to amend it. https://newmatilda.com/2015/06/11/muir-and-leyonhjelm-unlikely-back-coalitions-good-order-bill-without-changes
Coalition Senator Arthur Sinodinos defended the level of training required of immigration guards.
“This is not about bouncers in Kings Cross. This [training]goes way beyond that — for example, use negotiation techniques to defuse and resolve conflict; identify and comply with applicable legal and procedural requirements,” he said.
Sinodinos said the bill struck a balance between allowing officers to use appropriate force and ensuring it was exercised in good faith.
“The provisions in this bill send a very clear message to authorised officers that force is not to be exercised capriciously or inappropriately,” he said.