National Security

Mandarins keeping mum over detainee and asylum debacles

February 12, 2024

Monday 12 February 2024
Geoff Chambers
The Australian

 Home Affairs department secretary Stephanie Foster has refused a Coalition  information request ahead of a border security grilling at a Senate estimates  hearing over the release of dangerous non-citizens and the first onshore  asylum-seeker boat arrival.
 Ahead of key department and Australian Border Force officials appearing at a  Senate estimates hearing on Monday, The Australian can reveal Ms Foster  rebuffed attempts by the Coalition to seek answers on last year's bungled  release of immigration detainees.
 On February 2, opposition home affairs spokesman James Paterson and  opposition legal affairs spokeswoman Michaelia Cash wrote to Ms Foster and  the Attorney-General's Department secretary, Katherine Jones, asking for the  release of information ahead of this week's hearings.
 Ms Foster, writing on behalf of Ms Jones, responded to the Coalition  frontbenchers on Friday saying they were "not in a position to provide  this information in advance of Senate estimates" and "we look  forward to assisting the committee with its inquiries".
 Ms Foster replaced long-serving inaugural Home Affairs secretary Michael  Pezzullo on November 28 last year.
 The two-page letter from Senator Paterson and Senator Cash requested  timelines and figures from the department chiefs about the release of  immigration detainees in the wake of the High Court's NZYQ decision.
 That decision sparked a chaotic response from the government, which released  148 dangerous non-citizens into the community including some of whom were  later arrested for allegedly reoffending, despite wearing ankle bracelets.  The mass release sparked a significant redirection of police resources across  the country.
 The Albanese government fast-tracked legislation through parliament in  December to allow Immigration Minister Andrew Giles to apply to a court for  Community Safety Detention Orders or Community Safety Supervision Orders.
 Senator Paterson and Senator Cash told the department secretaries that if  they could answer their questions ahead of the Senate hearing, it would  assist in making "the most efficient use of limited time".
 They asked for timelines of key dates, including ministerial decisions and  briefings, concerning the conduct of the High Court litigation, approaches to  other countries in relation to the plaintiff's removal from Australia, the  release and granting of visas to detainees and the arrest or redetention of  dangerous noncitizens.
 The Coalition also sought a breakdown of individuals released from  immigration detention, including their offences and convictions; where they  were currently residing; how many were wearing ankle bracelets; how many had  been re-detained; and how many CSDO and CSSO applications had been made and  granted.
 Senator Paterson on Sunday said "it is absolutely routine for senators  to request factual information ahead of Senate estimates and for departments  to provide it".
 "It's extraordinary that the Department of Home Affairs has failed to  comply with this straightforward request, and hasn't even bothered to explain  why.
 "The department should not implicate itself in the Albanese government's  cover-up of its shocking mishandling of the High Court's indefinite detention  decision." Coalition senators will also question ABF officials about the  first asylum-seeker boat to illegally reach Australia in years.
 Some 12 unauthorised maritime arrivals were apprehended on an isolated  stretch of the West Australian Kimberley coastline in November last year.
 They were transferred to Nauru within 41 hours.

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